HL Deb 14 February 1979 vol 398 cc1284-352

4.27 p.m.

Debate resumed.


My Lords, the debate that we are now resuming is very relevant to the subject that we have just been discussing; because we are discussing the threat to society in our country which has always been united in its attitude to its work, to production and to agriculture because those concerned live in one society. They understand what each other is doing and that is the reason why it is so important that we discuss this subject of rural deprivation raised by the noble Lord, Lord Walston. I must say I was a little puzzled as to what was meant by "rural deprivation". The one thing that I was sure of was that neither the noble Lord, Lord Walston, nor I were the results of rural deprivation. Having said that, I thought (and it turned that I was right) that I understood what the noble Lord wanted to talk about. It is something from which perhaps we have suffered more in Scotland, and particularly in the Highlands, than has been the case in England. It is something one can see very clearly in one's own lifetime, and in one's own work in farming. When I came to my farm at Benshie after the war it was the same size as now and we did much the same agricultural work. On the evening before Hogmanay my men and I assembled to lower a little whisky before going home to our wives. We used to have 12 people in the little office—and I shall not tell your Lordships how many bottles! Now we have only seven people, and that is a very big drop in population.

The other aspect of the matter that brought this home to me was when I was at my father's funeral only three years ago. A lot of his old retired men were present. We were talking about the old days and of course describing funny incidents that had happened about the farm. One man said: "There is no other fun on the farms nowadays". Another very shrewd man said: "There is no other folk on the farm nowadays". This is what is happening in agriculture and it has gone to an extent that a lot of people cannot get the good men to carry out essential jobs, particularly hill farming, because of the social conditions.

In hill farming, for example, one will get a man who loves his work and will happily stay in the hills all day, living a full and satisfying life. However, it is seldom that one will get a wife who really enjoys being tucked away in a remote cottage up a glen three or four miles from the nearest neighbour. This is repeated throughout agriculture even in the more developed areas. Not only are the wives lonely, but the cost of living is more expensive. The noble Lord, Lord Walston, mentioned this. Some things are supposed to be cheaper in the country, but that is so only if one does a lot of work preparing food, catching the rabbits, digging the potatoes, and everything else which housewives have got out of the way of doing. They do not see why they should do these things when so many prepared foods are available.

Only yesterday the Scotsman published its table of prices, the cost of a shopping basket in different areas. They take Edinburgh, Glasgow, Berwick-on-Tweed, Cowdenbeath, Hawick, a Highland village and Aberdeen. It is extremely interesting that the cost of the basket of food in the Highland village was the highest. It cost £4.71. The lowest basket cost £3.43 in Aberdeen. Aberdeen is probably the most prosperous town in Britain—certainly in Scotland—but the Highland village is enormously more expensive to live in. A very large part of this comes from a fact that has already been mentioned. It is not so much that transport is more expensive—though it is more expensive—as that, if a village shopkeeper has to live by selling a small amount of stock, he has to charge a bigger margin of profit. As the noble Lord, Lord Elton, pointed out, he is not living high, he is working 80 hours a week and has to charge the customers more.

The other factor which, again, was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Walston, is education. In the remote areas in the Highlands—for example, in Sutherland—the schools have been closed down one by one or have been operated at great expense for the benefit of just one or two pupils. The attitude to education has been one of: "For goodness sake let us get the children into a big school"—I mean by that, taking Sutherland as an example, a school at Golspie—"as quickly as possible". A man might become a shepherd in a remote area, but as soon as his children reach the age of 11 he has to look for a job elsewhere because his children would be taken away and put in a school at Golspie where they would board, something for which they would not care, although many English pay large sums to be deprived of their children at an even earlier age.

These factors in education are very important because the small school has been proven in a large number of parts of the world to be very effective if it is properly run. It is perfectly right that peripatetic specialist teachers are an excellent adjunct, but the main thing is in the excellence of the village school teacher. There is not enough scope for paying people more for a very valuable job. Every now and again one gets a perfect example of what can be done. There is a small school next door to us, Padanaram School, and we have a teacher who is brilliant. She never has more than about 12 pupils. New pupils improve enormously beyond their performance in a previous school. I do not think that you need specialists to bring children up to primary level. An enthusiastic teacher can keep ahead just by reading the work, if nothing else. His or her enthusiasm and personal attention to the children can make up for it. There is a suburban attitude among directors of education and they look upon the village school and the small school as a perfect nuisance. They think that as soon as children go to a large school any faults can be corrected there. That is untrue. It is an attitude which one can understand because it is one of administrative ease, but it has done a lot of harm to village and country life, and a lot of harm to children.

The other great snag is transport. After the war, we used to have buses running between Kirriemuir and Forfar. They were always bung full and I am sure made a profit. These are two quite populous areas and the buses now run nearly empty the whole time. This is enormously expensive. I do not agree that one should always try to maintain regular bus services. Three years ago my right honourable friend the Leader of the Liberal Party, who represents the Borders, carried out a calculation of the cost of the bus service in his area. He found that it cost 50p per passenger mile, which was something like three times the price of flying in Concorde. I do not think that we can keep that up; in many cases it would be cheaper to give people cars and teach people to drive them than to try to provide a bus service.

There are a great many admirable services being provided right now. The Post Office deserve enormous credit for the running of the Post Office van plus bus. That has been an enormous help in a great many areas. Many speakers have already put their finger on the problem and this issue should be put in the hands of the local authority. They are the people who should license the vans, set out the routes and deal with the consultation. I do not see how the Traffic Commissioners can understand what goes on, particularly in these rural areas. This is one of the things that would help a very great deal.

On housing, there are a lot of good houses in the country. Certainly, the Rent Act and rent protection have done a great deal of harm in Scotland. Farmers have a tremendous interest in their own community and they may let a house to somebody who will develop a grudge against them. In a farming area, a lot of damage can be done by people who have a grudge against the farmer. They can leave gates open and so on. So the farmer, rightly, feels he must keep some control over his cottages. The result is that a great many houses are going to rack and ruin. This is because of the Rent Act.

I think it is having very much a counter productive effect in our area. I do not think one can stop people buying holiday houses by law, but I think we could encourage far more by grants to the local man who wants to build up his house and to improve it. I think that would do a great deal of good. I personally think that housing will have a lot to do with keeping up the fabric of life in the country. Again, in this village I am talking about, Padanuram, the council built a number of old people's houses and also a number of houses to let. There has been a large increase in the village and it has had a very good effect. The hall committee is now a very lively body; the school is now safe and the people who live there commute to Forfar or Dundee. So far as I can see, they take a full part in the life of the village; and, try as we will, we cannot force factories into the country. I think that the commuter will live in the country and can do a great deal of good in the countryside simply by providing a sufficient number of people to keep essential services going. Certainly this is very true in Caithness and along the A.9 are a lot of croft houses where people could live and commute to Wick and other places to work.

We come now to the question which I suppose is the core of the business: work in the countryside. It is not easy. Sutherland is a case in point. In the Aberdeen Press and Journal yesterday I saw a big survey of work going on in the Highlands. There was the story of a success here and a success there, with new factories in various places. In another part of the same paper was an account of Sutherland District Council's shock and dismay when they found that Sutherland in the last five years had lost 5 per cent. of their 13,000 population—and that in spite of the efforts of the Highlands and Islands Development Board. They have done a lot of good work and have tried very hard. It is not easy and I think that a whole number of factors need to be taken into account.

I know quite a lot about it because I am chairman of Caithness Glass, which is one of the most successful of the native industries which have been built up in the Highlands. We have had a tremendous amount of trouble in getting the right people to give us the skills to build up a modern industrial or craft enterprise which employs 170 people. It is a small industry, but very important, in the town of Wick. The important thing, as I say, is getting the right people and I think we need to look at a whole range of aspects if rural life is not to go to pot altogether.

We certainly need to look at taxation, because if you are going to develop an industry you have really to rely on finding the people to build it up from small beginnings, since you are not going to be immensely successful if you keep on bringing in branch factories. You have to get someone on the spot to develop it, and he has got to be able, quite apart from getting grants, help and everything else, to build up that enterprise and keep some of the money.

We have got to look at what is happening in agriculture as well. The landlord-tenant system is going to pot at the present time. It was a very useful system, and taxation at the present moment encourages landlords to take large tracts of land into their own hands and farm them; with the result that you lose tenant farmers, who were the centre of social life in a parish, and you simply get a large parish farmed by a company with a manager and an owner who very often is too busy counting up his taxes to pay much attention to other matters. This takes away the individual and I think it is something we have to look at very closely.

Another thing we have to do is to look at the development of natural resources. I have tried quite a lot of things in the Highlands, some of them successful and others not. The successful ones, the easy ones, are those which are tied up with something the Highlands have to offer, such as the hotel and tourist business, which is still capable of great development. That is a natural enterprise, where the customer comes to you. I know it has snags; I know it is seasonal; but still, if that is what is there, we should develop it. My Lords, I have spoken too long but I should like to say in conclusion that for many reasons this is a very important debate. I think that the answers are many and varied but we must all be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Walston, for bringing it up, because we must understand its great importance.

4.46 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of NORWICH

My Lords, I should like to echo what the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie said, about being indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Walston, because this is a matter of major importance. I must apologise to the House, in that I am due to preach a sermon—not now, but in about three-quarters of an hour—and therefore I may have to leave after making my speech. However, I hope to return to hear another six or seven speeches later on. I promise your Lordships that the notes of my sermon are on a different bit of paper from the notes of my speech!

It seems to me rural deprivation nearly always means rural isolation, and most of us who live and work in the country, like the noble Lord, Lord Mackie, up in Scotland, like the noble Lord, Lord Walston, in East Anglia and like myself in Norfolk, felt perhaps rather claustrophobic sitting on these crowded Benches during the first part of the afternoon. We were so glad when some of your Lordships went away and left us feeling more at home—and now of course they are all coming back again—because, of course, we are used to isolation in our part of the world and this deprivation is linked, as I say, to isolation.

Try as we will, it is not easy to overcome this. Two of our parishes were asked if they would share a clergyman. They said that they would not, because these two villages were on different sides in the war. We asked for an explanation and it turned out that it was the Civil War—but we have long memories in Norfolk! Another parish would not have somebody linked with their next-door parish, because that parish had not told them when the Danes came; so one is used to this sort of isolation, which is a true deprivation. At the same time we must recognise the fact that we cannot "cotton wool" the nation today. It is good for us to face the living issues which the noble Lord, Lord Walston, places before us and then find, in fairly rugged and determined ways, how we can turn the deprivations in the rural areas, without being defeatist, into a new quality of life.

I was interested to see that Canon Tony Russell was speaking yesterday at the conference which I gather the noble Lord, Lord Elton, had initiated. He had learnt the hard way by being right out in the Breckland as a young clergyman in one of the more isolated areas of Norfolk; and he made two points. The first is that people who want to live in the country may in many cases have to go without local medical or social services, schools or shops, simply because that is the way in which the country is at the moment. It has to be overcome, but it is a fact. However, Canon Russell also suggested that, like the monasteries, in religious terms, the villages were, in special terms, the repository of values of significance and importance in the wider society. It may not be possible for us to deal tidily with deprivation, but it is well worth our taking a determined stand on seeking to maintain and increase the quality of village life.

I know the employment situation makes this very difficult. As an example, the noble Lord, Lord Mackie, has spoken of his lovely Scotland, so let me therefore quote from Norfolk, with the approval of the Front Bench opposite to me, whom I see are present at this point. In 1932, 45.5 per cent. of Norfolk's school leavers went into agriculture, but in 1972 only 8.2 per cent. were able to be absorbed into agriculture. So we face a straight forward problem of the need to find a diversified form of employment for those who live in rural areas. We know about the rural bus services; we know about the cost of running cars which has risen so steeply. But it means, therefore, that a massive shift of allowable money within the country ought to be moved towards the countryside, because there are qualities and areas there that we must not allow to wither.

This is perhaps such a vivid illustration that it could hardly happen here. I was talking to one of our leaders in education over last weekend, when we were having a special education service in our cathedral, and he told me how he had been working 20 years ago in Turkey. He said: I worked in Turkey 20 years ago, and then the road from Izmir to Ephasus was largely bordered by farmland, with hamlets every few miles. I revisited the area three years ago and found that the city fringes have grown enormously, and practically the whole of the road is now lined with shanties—occupied by peasants who have been displaced from the land, because the tractor has taken over from the adze". Obviously, nothing as terrible as that—I hope—could even happen in our fair land, but, unless we do something fairly dramatic and determined about rural deprivation, the balance between country and urban will tip alarmingly in the wrong direction. But those of us who also worked for years in the inner city area—I myself had 10 years in that area—know that parallel problems of a different kind develop alarmingly, if the balance between town and country is not maintained.

Education is, of course, the obvious situation that we look at and, again, I know that the question of money arises all the time. In Norfolk, we have 115 schools with fewer than 51 pupils in them, and, as one-third of all the schools in Norfolk are Church schools, we who seek to represent Church life in Norfolk know that this situation must be dealt with. I am very glad that two or three of your Lordships have made the point about peripatetic teachers. I believe that teachers with specialist skills must go to the small schools, rather than that children in need of special skills must always be driven off to the big schools.

I was talking to a chartered surveyor who was concerned about the countryside. He said to me: Once the Church and the school are taken out of a village, the heart goes out of the village". We have to make sure that Church and school have a living presence in as many of the rural areas as possible. I know that it is difficult to do this, but, without those, we are in difficulties, because once we take away Church and school we have buildings without living people. We know something of this problem, because we have 637 glorious churches in Norfolk and about 270 clergy to service them, from the clerical point of view. Therefore we must be mobile. We cannot provide a schoolmaster and a parson for every village.

I have a suggestion which, I hope, might be of some use here, because in talking to the headmaster of one of my village schools, and his wife, who is a determined supporter of village schools, they made this point. The villages have never been idyllic. Nevertheless, village communities have provided, and do provide, the individual with a framework for living which is clearly acceptable to the human spirit. Time in the country is for living, not just for existing. The great danger is that villages will continue, but become geriatric ghettoes, not balanced caring communities where young and old can work together for the good of all.

Therefore, I have a practical suggestion which stems from the question; can we do something about this? Yes, I think we can. Is it impossible to consider that, using an area such as Devon, the Highlands or Norfolk, as a pilot scheme, we might have a modern Domesday Book, in which we look and see whether the following factors are present in any given village: a church building, a small village school, a village shop, a post office, a pub and a village hall—about five or six centres. In addition to that, three out of those five centres should have key personnel—perhaps the post office, the church and the pub—who are part of the village community.

Having made that simple survey, we could put the details on to a grid of about 10 square miles, to see whether we could, at least, pinpoint across a given area growth points rather than deprivation points, and to see that no one lived further than 10 or 12 miles from a growing area of rural life. We should then be taking the positive rather than the negative view. It would, of course, need a proper Government study, because it would be too difficult for any voluntary organisation to carry out such a wide-ranging exercise as this, but we could then, at least, make sure that no one lived more than 10 or 12 miles from a living rural area with key people in it, where there was a sense of community, of church life, of village life, a balanced group of young and old, and where the qualities of life in the country—which are very precious and which, I believe, we have to work hard and energetically to maintain in our country—can be increased. So this debate, which I again thank the noble Lord, Lord Walston, for initiating, could be a stepping-stone to a whole new and developing view of life in the rural areas.

5.8 p.m.


My Lords, it is a privilege to follow the right reverend Prelate, and I was very glad to hear him talk about the quality of rural life. As I have said earlier, there is a quality, particularly in respect of those who work on the land, farmers and farm workers, which is of great importance, because the fact that you have to work and co operate with nature imposes a discipline which is very salutary. While I believe that towns have a lot to offer which the country cannot offer, in this respect the country has a great deal to offer which it is difficult to find in towns. But, like many other noble Lords, I want to thank my noble friend Lord Walston for introducing this debate, which gives us an opportunity of discussing the problem of rural deprivation.

I sat down to consider what I might say, and found that I had two questions to ask myself. The first was: how do you define a rural area? I do not think it is easy. To many people living in towns, going out into the fringe area is enough. That, they feel, is the countryside. Again, to find the most convenient river for fishing satisfies them. For them, that is the rural countryside. But, of course, it is not. Therefore, for the purposes of what I have to say, I have in my own mind defined rural areas as those places where one finds isolated farmsteads and homes, and places which are 10 miles or so from the nearest large town. The definition is purely subjective, but it is one which gives me a basis upon which to work.

The other question is this: How does one define "deprivation"? It is a fact, is it not, that we hear about so many deprived people in the world today?—people who are suffering extreme hardship, oppression and subjugation. The noble Lord, Lord Elton, has put down an Unstarred Question on this subject, which is to follow this debate. My experience as chairman of the Supplementary Benefits Commission enabled me to know that in some of our large conurbations there is dire poverty and distress, but thank goodness! we in this country do not suffer deprivation of the kind which involves people being subjected to oppression, torture, the denial of their human rights and so on. It seems to me, therefore, that for the purposes of what we are dealing with one can define deprivation only by comparing what happens in certain sectors of a given community—first, what happens in towns and then what happens in the countryside—and seeing whether there is deprivation because people happen to live in a certain place.

The fact that deprivation occurs does not excuse it. I welcome this debate, because it is important that we should air the subject this afternoon. I have not attempted to find any answers. There is no doubt, however, that many people—in particular, the poor who live and work in rural areas—find that restrictions and hardships are imposed upon them which are not experienced by the majority of people who live in towns: people who quite rightly expect to get what a relatively affluent society can provide for all its citizens. I say again, it is not right that the advantages of modern civilisation should not be enjoyed by everybody.

I do not suppose that these deprivations are consciously or deliberately imposed upon country people. They are the consequences of isolation. I believe that they have grown like Topsy and that they are becoming more acute because of the continuing development of processes, services and so on which are directed mainly at townsfolk. Just because the services are there does not make it easy for country people to enjoy them; and in many cases, of course, they are simply not there.

The absence of transport facilities has already been mentioned by other speakers. I am afraid that some repetition in this debate is inevitable, and I apologise if I appear to be repeating points which have already been made. However, I agree with those noble Lords who have pointed out that perhaps the most difficult problem for rural people arises from the lack of adequate transport facilities. Since Beeching, we have seen the closure of railway branch lines. We have also seen a reduction in other transport services. Many villages now have an infrequent bus service—perhaps only one or two buses a week, perhaps none at all. And if there is a bus service, people still have to get to the nearest picking up point in the village. It may be that they have to travel a few miles. If you are a low paid worker and cannot afford a car, but if you are young and can ride a bike, it is not too bad. But what about the old, and what about all those people who, for one reason or another, are physically incapacitated?

Some of the problems which have to be faced have been generated by the rundown of village communities. This has been caused by the movement of people from the country to the town, due to the lack of employment in the countryside. It is perfectly true that employment is often difficult to obtain in the countryside, certainly in agriculture. So the demand for buses has declined, resulting in a reduced frequency of services and sometimes in the total withdrawal of some services. As a consequence of the decline in the number of passengers, the additional cost of providing buses and the staff to run these buses has meant that fares have risen quite steeply. Thus, the ability to use buses is now beyond the pocket of a great many poor people.

One other aspect relating to the depopulation of the countryside which has often been debated is its effect upon village communities. Many village communities are virtually dying of inanition. I need say no more about that, and I do not intend to do so because it has already been said by noble Lords who have preceded me in the debate. In other directions, too, country people suffer deprivation, perhaps due to the natural tendency to concentrate resources on the conurbations. A survey was carried out recently by the National Federation of Women's Institutes. It revealed that 54 per cent. of villages are without a doctor's surgery, that 75 per cent. are without a chemist and that 84 per cent. are without a dentist. The survey also revealed that 89 per cent. of villages are without an optician. If, therefore, country people need such services they must travel to obtain them.

The same report also mentions that 43 per cent. of country people have to travel over four miles to collect medicine, while more than 50 per cent. have to travel more than four miles to find a dentist. These statistics have been quoted by the Child Poverty Action Group. They say in their summary: The main conclusion which has been reached is, indeed, an understatement when it is said that country dwellers experience difficulty in gaining access to health care facilities". I believe that probably it is an understatement.

Planners concentrate on housing problems in urban areas—again, perhaps, understandably. However, the housing condition survey of 1971 reported that one in every five homes in rural areas was substandard. I am not forgetting the welcome improvement which many farmers have sought to bring about in the cottages which they provide for their workers. But there is still a great deal of country accommodation which is inadequate and very substandard. We have spoken about the lavatories down the garden.

I could go on. I could speak about education and the distance which children have to travel to school because of the closure of so many village schools. One can understand the argument for the concentration of children's education in secondary modern schools, but the loss of the village school has been quite sincerely questioned by many people who are concerned with education, and also by many rural families.

I am sure that other noble Lords will tell us about other deprivations which country people suffer, but I must reiterate that it is a complete fallacy to believe, as many people do, that it is cheaper to live in the country than in the town. This point was emphasised by the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, and by the noble Lord, Lord Elton, and it is of course a fact. While countrymen produce a high proportion of the food we consume, yet it is dear for them to take into their own households and to consume within their own families. The village shop is more expensive than the town store. Again, I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Elton, who mentioned the fact that this was because the turnover was small in relation to the capital which had to be invested in the small village shop. So if the housewife wants to go to town to purchase her goods more cheaply in the big store there, she has to find the bus fare and, as I have already said, it has become perhaps too much for many country housewives.

I am not seeking to suggest that living or working in the country is all bad, all gloom and despondency. There are real pleasures which accrue from country life and living and working in the country, as indeed the townsman knows and hankers after. This is evidenced by the interest that the townsman is showing in getting out into the countryside, it may be only into a fringe area; and by the growing number of people who, being comparatively well off, are able to buy week-end I cottages or retirement cottages where they retire, someone said, to die.

The question that one asks oneself is whether they can really integrate—"gel" —with the village community that is left, dwindling though it is. I agree with those who hope that integration will come about to the advantage of everybody; but in any case, good luck to them. The point I am making here is that really to enjoy the undoubted advantages and pleasures, both physical and spiritual, which one can derive from living on or near the land demands a high income. It is all very well to talk in glowing terms about the wonderful countryside in all its glory if you have sufficient income to have a good house, a good car so that you can get into town and go to see the things that you want to see in terms of the arts—the art galleries, the opera, the ballet, Shakespeare and all the rest of it. If you can afford to do this and you have the time to do it, so well and good; but it is clear that if you are a worker, you are excluded from these things.

As your Lordships know, I speak for farm workers. I know. I have had the experience of living in both town and country. I was born in the country but I grew up in Poplar, at a time when there was dire poverty and deprivation. Children were running about without shoes and stockings, and there was evidence of malnutrition, rickets and all the rest of it. I was more fortunate, but saw those things. Despite all that, as a town boy living in Poplar I was able to join the Boy Scouts—I did that and sought to get my arm covered with efficiency badges. I joined the Church Lads' Brigade. There was a swimming bath, where I learnt to swim. At that time Poplar was very much a centre of boxing, with the lower class professional, although we had our Teddy Baldock when I was a boy, and Jimmy Wilde.

As I have told your Lordships before, at the church hall I had the great privilege of growing up with Father John Groser who was a great Christian socialist and who taught the sort of socialism that I believe in. It must be realised that people like myself feel a great deal of distress at some of the things that are happening today. I do not want to thrash that particular donkey; it has been thrashed perhaps too much, and there are evils on both sides. I wonder why people are provoked to that extent. What I am saying is that, living in Poplar, those facilities were there if I wanted to use them. Then I left London and went to a very good grammar school. I did not experience any difficulty there, because everything was provided—the baths, the gym and all the rest.

Having left school I then came back to London at the age of 17 and was employed as a very junior office boy on a very low salary. Once again, everything was there. I had the privilege of being able to go to the old Queens Hall, which was bombed in the War, to hear the great orchestra under Sir Henry Wood. I was able to go to Sadler's Wells and the Old Vic. I saw and knew such people as the members of the Vic-Wells Society, including Peggy Ashcroft and Charles Laughton, who played Henry VIII there. He also played Prospero. Not many people ever knew that Charles Laughton could make a Prospero, but he was a fine one. I saw Alicia Markova when she was young, Anton Dolin; I heard Joan Cross and many more. These were cultural advantages which one does not and cannot find in the countryside. I went back to the country to work on a farm and although, as I am sure your Lordships appreciate, I made the choice deliberately to go back and work in the countryside and I enjoyed it and all the work that I did, I had had that opportunity before and it was very satisfying and helpful.

My Lords, I must stop because there is no time for more. The farmworkers are typical of other workers in the country. They do not preponderate now, as has been said, but in relation to the incomes earned by other people, I return to my point that really to enjoy the country and what it can offer one has to have a higher income than in town. But indeed the opposite is the situation; you just do not have it. All the time that I was General Secretary of the National Union of Agricultural Workers, from 1953 to 1969, the average wage of the farm worker was in the region of 1 per cent. above or 1 per cent. below 70 per cent. I am told that today it is 73 per cent. as a result of the increase which has just been gained for agricultural workers—from 11 to 13 per cent. But that is the figure before the other large gains which are being made elsewhere percolate into the system. It is quite probable—and indeed I am sure it is a fact—that they still remain at that particular level and what happens to them is symptomatic: it is what happens to workers in the country areas in the various different types of jobs they do.

I have made no proposals for amelioration. I agree with much that the noble Lord, Lord Walston, has said about the need to find employment opportunities in the country. I do not think that one can really make proposals this afternoon which can be considered viable. One needs to know and to study a great deal more, and that is the virtue of this debate. This is why I am so grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Walston, and indeed to others who have spoken, because clearly this is not a Party political matter; it is a matter of social interest and concern. I am grateful to him for giving us the opportunity of airing this most important and, in my view, too much neglected subject.

5.20 p.m.

Baroness VICKERS

My Lords, first may I make an apology to your Lordships' House for the fact that I shall have to leave in three-quarters of an hour to attend a very important committee; I have been commanded to go to it because we have to vote on selection of a secretary for the CPA. I would like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Walston, for the excellent way he opened the debate. I had the privilege just by chance last weekend of being at Cockfield, which he will know well, and so I saw many of the villages in the area he was speaking about. I am also very pleased to follow the noble Lord who has just spoken because I realise what a lot he has done for agricultural workers, and his great knowledge, and for another reason. I stood for Poplar for Parliament and for the LCC, and in the war we had children from Poplar evacuated to the village I now live in. So we have something in common.

Like the noble Lord who has just spoken, I have lived in both town and country and I consider the privations are less in the country than in the town. There is a very interesting pamphlet called New Deal for Rural Britain by Alan Butt-Philip and others. One passage reads: Whole communities are threatened by decay and collapse. The rural predicament is intractable and also often unrecognised". I hope this afternoon to be able to prove that this is not the case, anyway at the present time. I always think that individuals as a whole are happier in the country. There is a very much better social mix, there is less crime, and also there is no need for loneliness. The main problems have been mentioned, but I want to mention them again and go into detailed suggestions I have to make in order to help.

There are the shops, the post offices, the buses, schools, and medicines; medicines are one of the most difficult things to get in a local area. But shops are coming back into their own again, and the reason is difficulty with the buses and the expense of the buses. We have a shop in the next village to mine, not far away, just over a mile. The shop is flourishing and it had everything except drink; so I suggested to the chap that he should apply for a licence and last week he got it. So we shall be able to get everything we need. The main butcher in the area is delivering to his shop. There will be no need for people to go elsewhere for anything. He is putting up a list; if people want anything in particular they let him know and he will try to make arrangements to get it. I think this is going to help the small shops tremendously if they have the initiative. We also have a mobile shop. We have milk delivered, and I must say that all during the snow the milkman delivered the milk. There is a mobile food van which brings the vegetables; there is a mobile library; there is a mobile chiropodist; there is a meals-on-wheels, if necessary. There is an over-sixties club. There is an oculist in the next village, and there is an excellent pub, which is just like the Archers and gives everybody a great deal of fun.

This village consists of 500 voters. It is divided into the parish and the hamlet, and I live in the hamlet. Recently we had a by-election and I suggested that we should run a candidate. A friend of mine agreed to stand and I acted as his agent. This had an electrifying effect. Two others put up, and we got beaten by the local postmaster. Obviously for him it was easy, because he knew everybody and my candidate did not. Of course, he could say to Mrs. Smith "I am not going to pay your pension next week if you do not vote for me". We have a Women's Institute, a play group and a nursery school. There is still, I am glad to say, a primary school, and a club for the over-sixties, who I think today, weather permitting, are in a bus on the way to Salisbury to go to a theatre.

One of the things I really think need considering is planning. This is what worries me with the villages. So often the council comes along and builds a whole section of council houses away from the village proper. There is also private building. One village near me has a council estate about half a mile away from the actual village, and a private estate which is also not in the village proper. This, of course, does make a difference in integrating the newer people. Also, there is another problem; the Ministry of Defence has a great many empty houses, because this is on Salisbury Plain, and I have time and again asked them to sell them off because I think it is very essential that we do get them occupied.

The noble Lord, Lord Walston, talked about the peripatetic teacher. I would like to say to him that in West Lavington there is a school run by the Merchant Tailors and also a comprehensive school. They have had exchange of teachers and other things, but it has been said in the local paper—perhaps the noble Lord could find out by asking his right honourable friend Mrs. Williams—that she is going to request that this amicable arrangement should cease next year or perhaps this year. I think this would be a very great pity. I think also it would be a pity if the smaller children had to be bused, because I think one of the great things is to have co-operation between the parents and teachers and that is not possible if the young children have to be taken off considerable distances. I would like to suggest in regard to these schools that when they are not wanted they should be handed over to the parish council, especially where there is no village hall. Living in the hamlet part of the village, I let the local people use my house when I am not there. I have formed a committee; I am not on it and I would not be, because it is much better that people should run things themselves. As the noble Lord, Lord Elton, will know, because his sister lives in the village, we have open air summer fetes, fruit and vegetable shows and so on, cricket matches, a quarterly dance and we have managed to get a licence for a bar. So everybody comes along. They have to have tickets because it is not all that big. There has never been any trouble and the place is always extremely well cleaned up.

I was very interested in Lord North-field's Land Inquiry, but I did not like his suggestion that there should be control of rural land in public ownership. Perhaps he will say something about this to enlighten me if I have got it wrong. I would like any land like this to be managed by the local authority. Mr. Christopher Hall who is the director and expert of the Council for the Protection of Rural England said that with fewer demands on the social services than in the town the place is healthier, the police have less trouble and there are fewer broken marriages and broken homes and fewer children delinquent. I think this says a lot for the countryside. I think people are taking a great deal more interest now. In Wiltshire the other day a farmer refused to turn his barn into a tractor centre when it had been a blacksmith's forge. He suggested that this was rather rare these days and it should be kept, and of course it can still work, not necessarily on shoes for horses but on other useful work.

I would like to discuss village schools. I am delighted that Lady Plowden has recognised the need for the village school and the smaller classes. I would like to quote from Lord Young of Dartington, his letter from the Mutual Aid Centre Limited published on 9th September. He said: …rather than accept complete closure there is no reason why a parent-teacher co-operative should not be formed to keep the school open through a charitable trust which does not charge fees. Parents can keep costs down by doing much of the work themselves and raise money to pay teachers who would be otherwise unemployed. This Centre—(this is the Mutual Aid Centre) has given its full support to the co-operative at Medingley in Cambridgeshire which is trying to do just that". I think that that is a point which should be put forward.

Moreover, the telephone system should be made easier. It is extremely difficult for people who live in distant parts. Indeed, one farm is five miles away from the road and so it cannot have a telephone. I suggest that the local authority or the Social Security Department should be able to install a telephone. The initial expense is great, but people must pay for their telephone calls. As regards the places which are far distant and the people who cannot get to a post office, I suggest that they should have a little box on their front door where they can place their letters and the postman can collect them when he delivers the mail. It is extremely simple. I do it myself from time to time and there is never any trouble. In fact, we have a most delightful postman and he had a good Christmas box for that reason.

There is also the question of churches, which is extremely difficult. There are no buses at all on Sunday and our vicar has to deal with three churches. Moreover, it means that regrettably at present there is no Sunday school. I should like to see a parish bus run by the council or, if they wish, contracted out to a private operator. Of course, in the olden days one had carriers which were very advantageous. We have good doctors, but the difficulty is getting medicines made up. One of us usually takes prescriptions to the nearest town which is about seven and a half miles away. I am glad to say that the cottage hospital, which is not very near us but near many of the surrounding villages, is still intact and working well.

I hope that the few remarks I have made, which are perhaps not altogether practical, will prove that the villages are not dying on their feet and as a whole are very happy communities. Most of them now have electric light and television. They may not have main sewerage but we can do without that. I remember that when I was young a man with a wooden leg used to pump the water for our baths. We have gone a long way since those days. Jubilee Year was a great help to the villages. If one read the local newspapers one knew that most villages decided that they would have some fun—and they did. I hope that that spirit which brought people together in Jubilee Year will continue. It is certainly present in the village in which I now live.

Viscount SIMON

My Lords, before the noble Baroness sits down, I should like to ask her a question. Early in her speech she told us a story about her local post master. I wonder whether she will reflect that that story will appear in cold print in Hansard, although I am sure that she was telling the story as a joke. If it appears in cold print it will be rather hurtful, if not libellous, to the postmaster.

Baroness VICKERS

My Lords, I do not think that it could be hurtful or libellous. The postmaster already knows what I have said; therefore your Lordships need not worry. Indeed, I have pulled his leg about the matter. Moreover, he is an extremely nice man even though he beat us. I have had a word with him and one of his colleagues about what we need in our part of the parish, and we got on very well.

5.35 p.m.


My Lords, this has been an interesting debate and I should think that nearly everything possible has been said. Consequently I shall try not to reiterate what has been said. I have a great advantage. I was brought up in all kinds of villages—rural villages in Cardigan where we were small hill farmers and then mining villages in the Rhondda and Rhymney Valleys. We had marvellous villages with highly intelligent miners running small wheelbarrow farms—which might interest the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie. Incidentally, I apologise for the fact that I left the Chamber during the middle of his interesting speech. My absence was not meant as an insult to his ability to interest me, but my secretary was outside with an important letter for the bank and I want to avoid being a bankrupt, because if I were a bankrupt I would not be allowed to stand here.

Coming to these marvellous villages, I partly agree with what the noble Baroness, Lady Vickers, has said. I do not think they are dying. The sophisticates and the philistines talk about rural life. For God's sake! let us keep out of our villages the planners who build the mega-high line, high rise towers that we see all around London. We destroy the soul of mankind by knocking up those steel matchboxes. I think that the social life of the village is marvellous. If there is any noble Lord who wants to take me on in dominoes, tip-it, or even a game of darts, and if there is good beer—we still have good beer in the Bishops' bar—I am willing to play. I was brought up in villages. Do not think that the villagers do not enjoy themselves. Do not think that their IQs are low because they speak slowly and deliberately—every farmer, as the right reverend Prelate will know, believes in God because things grow. They have a fund of common sense. Do not let us talk in a high falutin' manner. The yeomen of Britain—and I use the word "Britain", bringing in even the Scots—helped to make this country great. That is no exaggeration.

I have decided that I shall speak for only 10 minutes, which should please your Lordships. However, I should like to bring out a few points worthy of note. I must also in passing pay a tribute to my noble friend Lord Northfield and the work that his organisation does. The noble Lord, Lord Winstanley, is chairman of the Countryside Commission, but there are many organisations about which I should like some information. Do those organisations co-ordinate their approach to our rural problems, especially as regards the point made by my noble friend Lord Walston about deprivation in those areas? I think that perhaps they do meet, but I do not know. I do not even know whether I have made a constructive suggestion, because they may already do so. Do they get together to see whether their work overlaps? For example, the organisation of the noble Lord, Lord Winstanley, carried out an investigation into the villages. I had better give an accurate figure, so I must look it up.

There is a massive movement of the urban population into the countryside which is roughly estimated at 82 million visits in an average summer. I have seen the mountain paths in Wales; I have even seen them in Scotland and I have certainly seen them in the Peak District because I had the honour of representing a beautiful constituency for many years in North Staffordshire in the moorland area where there are wonderful villages. However, the Peak District is beaten up by millions of feet and millions of motor cars rolling through it. I do not want to be pompous about the problem but it is an extremely difficult problem as regards the deprivation of villages.

How does one solve the problem? Should we, in some cases, come to the fringe of the countryside areas. For God's sake! if we do keep people out, let us keep out the funny machines that play violent pop music while nightingales and skylarks may be singing. One hears these damn machines blowing away like the bellows in a Vulcan's blacksmith's shop and shaking the whole valley. I cannot understand it. I do not think that we have the right to pass laws in this respect, but in this regard we must do something about education.

I should like to raise another matter as regards an ex-town clerk. He was retired at barely 60. He did not want to be retired, but he had to be under the daft reorganisation of local government. That reorganisation has ruined the real drive of local government. Anyway, he said to me: "Do you know"—I must not name the village because I was asking about a cottage—"how much that cottage sold for?" It sold for £22,000. It was probably built in about 1860 for £100, if that. I say that because my grandfather was offered a farmhouse for £50 during the Boer War. It was great talk in the family. The cottage sold for £22,000 and that of course is sheer idiocy. This is the sheer apotheosis of materialism. We are making the village a dump where neurotic city dwellers, who cannot sleep without shoving tons of valium down themselves, can unwind. Rural Britain is not a dormitory for the over-rich or for those who are too tired to talk properly.


My Lords, would not the villagers make a great deal of money out of the neurotic city dwellers?


My Lords, thank God that is not the driving force of the villages of Britain! The noble Lord has exposed the very point that I am trying to make. The materialistic drive and the measure of happiness does not depend on one's health. When I was a boy in February it was always which of us could swim first in the River Teifi by breaking the ice. We used to say "Who has been first in the river?" and that person swanked about it. I am talking about kids. They did it because they breathed deeply and they lived fully. Without the materialistic objective there was a kind of faith, and a fullness and richness in life.

Without being didactic—and by no means do I want a theocratic State—I wish that we could recapture a little of that spiritual drive, a little of that non-materialistic drive, that has made rural England and rural Britain what it has been in the past, and stop the worry.

The word "worry" is a wonderful word and comes from the Anglo-Saxon. It means "to choke". That is what is happening to our cities. Noble Lords should have driven with me this morning in a motor car around Hampstead. For the first time for years everybody was being polite, because they were frightened to death on the ice. Fear makes human beings cling together. I want understanding to make human beings co-operate.

I have spoken for only eight minutes and I shall take about three more. As its objective, the Countryside Commission has the conservation of the countryside and the promotion of public access. Those are two diametrically opposed objectives. Do not get me wrong; I am not suggesting that we should stop access to the countryside, but how can we conserve the countryside when millions of tons of tin, called automobiles or cars, roll around and are dumped anywhere. I think that in the main people should be made to walk through national parks, except, of course, the elderly and the sick who should have the privilege of travelling through to picnic sites on a local bus. However, I believe that cars should not be admitted to great rural parks, especially if they are driven by the young and the fit.

I turn to schools. The Department of Education and Science should have someone on its staff who knows about the value of country schools. The moorland district of Staffordshire in which I nearly had 3,000 farms, is not now represented by me but by an excellent Member of Parliament who, as I did, does a job of work. He has been trying to keep open the rural schools. However, the county council in the South of the county is so far away and so remote that it does not know what a 14 ft. drift is, and children of seven and eight years of age who are taken home by cars are sometimes stranded for the night in the moorland town of Leek. These people have marched to the Ministry, have tried to contact Ministers and have certainly tried to contact the pompous Staffordshire County Council. But they failed. I do not think that anyone there knows the real joy of a well-knit country school. I have forgotten my teaching days, but I guarantee to get an intelligent boy through his matriculation in maths, or some such subject—certainly in geography—in a little country school with a top class of about six or seven. Thirty or forty years ago those small classes were doing nature study and study in depth, which many people have forgotten. Today children may be taught binary mathematics—which I understand up to a point—but that is not that much use to those children compared with an understanding of nature and agriculture.

How time flies; I have been speaking for 12 minutes. I want to support the Association of District Councils, bless them; I speak partly on their behalf. I have been invited to a meal tonight, but I cannot get to it. They say that they aim unequivocally—I like that word—for the maintenance of a strong and prosperous rural economy. I wish that Mr. Beeching had remembered that when he bundled up all the country railways. If we had subsidised the rural railways in the Buxton area, the Welsh area, Devon and some of the holiday areas, the country would have made money from it. I believe that we made a fundamental mistake in closing so many of our country railways. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Norwich mentioned Norfolk. I remember the local stationmaster on one country railway there saying "We used to carry hundreds of tons of sugar beet to the market but the contract all went to the roads". So we clutter up the roads unnecessarily with tens of thousands of tons of sugar beet which, quite happily, could even have been carried on a canal or on the old railways. We should have examined that possibility. Does it not sound wonderful to say that one is an economist, but not one economist can provide us with the answer to the economic problems which England faces tonight, because they all disagree.

I come to my last point, as much as I would love to continue. This noble House needs waking up a little. The district councils have suggested that existing authorities should have more power. I enjoyed the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Elton, who—along with a number of noble Lords—said that more power should be given to the parish councils. They are on the spot and know what they are talking about, despite the fact that they may speak with a Welsh intonation. The existing local authorities are limited and the local district councils think that their powers should be extended, because the Local Authorities Land Act 1963 permits district councils to make advances towards costs of building by industrialists and other small enterprises. I would not grumble at subsidising private enterprise to set up small electronic or other concerns in the village. Nearly everything has been covered. However, I could think of another dozen aspects. The night is short. I have enjoyed speaking and I am waiting with absolute enthusiasm for the speech of my noble friend Lady David, who I congratulate because she will be answering us for the first time from the Dispatch Box.

5.49 p.m.


My Lords, I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek, that we have immensely enjoyed listening to him. There is no need for him to set these time limits; nor is there any point in setting them because, to our great enjoyment, he always exceeds them. We are supposed to be having a sombre debate about rural deprivation, but in fact the theme which constantly breaks through is one of rural richess and rural wellbeing. This is because the rural deprivation is, fortunately, only there in small pockets. But it is a phenomenon that we have to recognise. It is nothing to do with personal deprivation, or the absence of a bus service, or a school, or one or two features of rural life.

What we are concerned about is the exact opposite of what my noble friend Lady Vickers was talking about: the situation when the population of an area, a dale, a village, declines to the point that the whole community collapses and loses coherence. Instead of a single coherent community we are left with a group of isolated householders who have no centre at which to shop, worship, or do anything else. That exists in pockets because of two factors. One is an exodus of farming folk at the rate of anything up to perhaps 14,000 a year 10 years ago, now fortunately down to something like 2,000 a year. But that is not the only trend; it is compensated by a positive invasion. I am not talking now about these millions of visitors, but something like 80,000 or 90,000 people moving from the towns into the country to live; commuters, pensioners, weekenders, and what I have heard described as neo-peasants going into the country to seek alternative forms of life style. It is a tremendous mixture and a very large invasion.

In the areas within the urban shadow—the urban shadow which gets longer and longer as people are prepared to drive further and further to commute—this invasion completely swamps and masks the exodus which produces deprivation. I think that the invasion causes considerable stress and strain because it imposes a violent change in the villages where it occurs. I dealt with this pastorally when I was on the staff of the Bishop of St. Albans, a diocese which I think contains more new towns than any other diocese in the country, and where all around each of those new towns you get a tremendous influx of these four groups into the surrounding previously agricultural villages.

One by one the natives cede their institutions, such as the Women's Institute, the football club and the pub, to these more numerous incomers, and there is a tremendous conflict and fragmentation. It is here that the churches have an important role to play in integrating these disparate elements into a single healthy whole. Although I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Walston, that the role of the rural parson is a satisfying one, his job in that situation is no light one.

The integration of villages under invasion from the towns is not primarily the problem we are dealing with. Where there is no invasion there is no hope of any continuing long life; no viability left now on a base which is purely agricultural. As my noble friend Lord Elton said, villages do not now live on farms alone. They cannot live on farms alone. If the decline through the moving out of farming people in the remote rural areas is unchecked, then at some point the trend becomes irreversible, the village community collapses and cannot then be recovered. In that decay something priceless is lost to the nation as a whole, so that our efforts to stop this occurring really deserve considerable attention.

The process involves diversification from agriculture by the infusion of new jobs, and new income is what is needed to get the economic base right. Here we come straight away to the role of the Development Commission. I need not go into this at any length because the noble Lord, Lord Northfield, can be relied on to do it. However, I should like to take this opportunity of congratulating him on his drive and that of his colleagues in the three things that they are doing to put things right, and I shall say no more about that aspect.

The Association of District Councils also have an important role, which I must mention because I am one of their vice-presidents. Like the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek, I am anxious to get there before the party is over. They are having their reception tonight. They have an important job to do in focusing the various policies—not all of them always successfully integrated—that emanate from Whitehall, and bringing them to bear with their various grants and aids, and so on, in a tailor-made fashion in their own particular area. As the Association of District Councils say in the useful book they have recently published called Strategy for Survival this task can really be summed up as harnessing the tradition of the rural communities to sustain the way of life by various forms of self-help. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Northfield, is going to say that that is where they are going to put their main emphasis—and quite rightly.

It is true to say, as my noble friend Lady Vickers was just saying, that most rural areas have now their basic services—electricity, water, sewerage, posts, telephones, buses, et cetera, albeit in many of them at a heavy subsidy, which I think most of us will gladly shoulder on their behalf. But many equally basic but more general rural services are extremely vulnerable in these remote rural areas. By that I mean the shop, the pub, the village hall, the school bus, the school, and the church. Many feel that these are virtually indispensible too, and I think quite rightly.

The only way to safeguard and secure those vulnerable services is to build up the rural economy, and to do it in the remotest and most deprived areas—fortunately, not too many. What can be done is to make more use of the rural areas' main and finest resources; that is, the countryside itself. Farmers know well enough how to exploit the countryside for the production of food to meet the strong demand for food. That is going on well, and there are few industries in our country as efficient as our agriculture. But the demand on the countryside is not only a demand for food from it. There are strong demands for tourism, leisure and recreation, as the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek, has just mentioned. That demand is very strong too.

The question we have to ask ourselves is whether the farmers and the landowners are as expert and as well advised in that field as in exploiting the countryside for food production. I believe that the farmer might do worse than harness the demand for food and the demand for tourism together, and meet them both together on his own farm. What is needed is the means to translate that theory, which is expressed over and over again and is constantly being preached, into practice. I am afraid here we come across some serious shortcomings at both central and local government level.

The Development Commission does a good job, and Lord Northfield can be relied on to tell us all about it. But I think he would agree that his Commission does not engage to any great extent in tourism, because an English Tourist Board is there, specifically set up for that purpose, with no less than 12 regional tourist boards. But the fact of the matter is that those regional tourist boards are not empowered to give grants save in the assisted areas defined, not for these purposes—the purposes of overcoming rural deprivation—but for the purposes of regional, industrial policy. It really is quite made that in a sector where tourism is so important the regional tourist boards and the English Tourist Board are not empowered to give grants for farm tourism unless it happens to fall in a development area.

The second weakness is that the regional tourist boards as a whole—and I am generalising; there are plenty of admirable exceptions—have little contact with the farmers and the farmers have no great confidence in the regional tourist boards. The farmers' confidence lies in the staff of the Agricultural Development Advisory Service. They are the people to whom a farmer turns when he wants to embark on some new venture. He has their confidence and they have his, but that service has at the moment no remit to go into the field of farm tourism. However, there are a number of important developments here which I wish to report to your Lordships.

First, on this question of tourism, it is I clear that the Association of District Councils now see that they should embark on a fuller role. They have included four important paragraphs—at this late hour I will not read them at length—in which they record their recognition of the importance of tourism in this area and the necessity for them to take a more active role in that field. But, more specifically, the so-called Strutt Committee, the body which advises the Ministry of Agriculture and which reported recently, said specifically that they recommended their Minister, the Minister of Agriculture, to: …ask the Secretaries of State for the Environment and Trade to consider extending the financial aid provided by CoSIRA and the National Tourist Boards to farmers for tourist projects and facilities, to areas of the countryside outside the Development Areas". That is the very thing I was arguing for, and there is a specific recommendation about it. The report goes on to recommend the Minister of Agriculture: …with the Secretary of State for the Environment to encourage the integration of farming and tourism through the establishment of permanent management services…". So as long as that is acted on, and acted on quickly, we can look forward to some progress there.

But the integration of agriculture and tourism on a farm base is not the only possibility. Also, it is desirable and beneficial for the farmer to bring together agriculture and conservation and the improvement of the landscape; and we get another clear recommendation from the Strutt Report when they urge the Minister of Agriculture to: …urge the Secretary of State for the Environment to increase financial assistance towards the improvement of footpaths through better maintenance, signposting and waymarking, especially in areas of intense visitor pressure", and for permanent management services, on lines similar to the Upland Management Advisory Service in the Lake District, throughout all other national parks. Thus, that is also recognised within Ministry of Agriculture circles at any rate as being a right, feasible and valuable thing to do.

All of that calls for changes in policy and attitude in Whitehall, in local government and in the agriculture industry. Meanwhile, the technique of management agreements lies to hand to help to achieve this greater coherence in rural policy on the ground and, through it, revival in the rural economy in remoter villages. The legislative basis for management agreements is now provided in a couple of clauses in the Countryside Bill which is in the Commons, and we must make sure that that Bill gets through to us before anything else supervenes.

The technique of a management agreement is described in detail in a new study written by a Mr. Michael Feast and published recently by the Countryside Commission; an extensive study into the whole art. There are a number of models already in existence of very informa management agreements, which are typified by the Upland Management Advisory Service in the Lake District; and there is the model, much more elaborate and formal, which is incorporated in the Bill I introduced to your Lordships on Monday dealing with the management of the commons on Dartmoor.

With management agreements we can, I believe, at last achieve the trinitarian goal, as I might describe it, of reconciling three rural objectives in one coherent policy on each piece of countryside or farm, and we can show that it is pratcical and profitable for the farmer to manage one piece of land for three purposes simultaneously. I do not agree with Lord Davies that these things are diametrically opposed to each other; it is possible with good management to reconcile production of food, conservation of the landscape and enjoyment by the public. It takes some skill to do it, but it can be done. Some farmers do it already, but it is by striving to get many more to do it better that I believe we can do most to lift our remoter rural villages from the deprivation by which they are threatened, and by doing that I believe we can do much else for the benefit of the whole nation.

6.6 p.m.


My Lords, as others have done, I wish to thank my noble friend Lord Walston for introducing this debate, and I am sure he is gratified with the standard of debate that has resulted from his initiative. In doing so, I am conscious that he and I have two interests in common which have some relevance to this discussion. For some time he and I served together on the board of the Commonwealth Development Corporation, which was one aspect of our common interest in the Third World problems, and as any noble Lord who is acquainted with the problems of the Third World will readily know, this question of rural deprivation is by no means a British problem but a world-wide one.

Indeed, the shanty town and the poverty stricken village is all too commonly the fate of people in the Southern Continent. It occurs to me, therefore, that we have in the subject we are debating today yet another example of how the problems of the developed world, the world in which we live, and the problems of the Third World are proving to be basically the same. We at one time thought we were worlds apart, but increasingly we are realising that the problems are the same world-wide.

The second thing I have in common with my noble friend, more directly related to what we are discussing, is our common interest in the Plunkett Foundation for Co-operative Studies. He has given distinguished service to that organisation. I cannot claim the same direct association, but I have a long-standing interest in the work of that body, and the work of the Plunkett Foundation in relation to co operative societies, particularly in rural areas, is very relevant to what we are discussing today.

Indeed, the name Horace Plunkett has much relevance to this debate. He was the father of the Irish agricultural co operative movement. He taught that the same co-operative principles which have over the century proved so successful in urban shop-keeping could be applied with equal effect for the benefit of rural communities, and it is to me, at any rate, a most satisfactory development in the post-war world that farmers are coming more and more to realise the importance of their own co-operative movement, and that I suggest has a great deal to offer in seeking to overcome the problems to which noble Lords have called attention today.

In this respect, we have a great deal to learn from Ireland, where Horace Plunkett did so much of his work, and I am glad we are still learning from Irish co-operators. I would cite particularly the work done in County Donegal under the leadership of Father James McDyer. It has been said of him that he simply applied his Christian ethics and came up with the co-operative answer. Under his leadership derelict rural communities have been restored to health by the application of co-operative business principles.

I am now glad to read that his message, and the message of the rural co-operative, has been delivered in an area which has already been referred to several times in the debate (the Highlands and Islands of Scotland) and that the Highlands and Islands Development Board is now encouraging the establishment of community co-operatives, as they are called, the first one having been established in the Isle of Lewis. The Highlands and Islands Development Board is now employing two full time co-operative development officers to carry out this work.

The community co-operative has, as its name implies, many purposes within a village community. It can provide houses, craft workshops, shops, community amenities, and marketing facilities. It can do all that within one organisation. I personally have seen examples of what in other countries are called multipurpose co-operatives which are doing magnificent work in tackling the kind of problems to which we are turning our attention this evening. I saw one in as remote a place as the Island of Borneo, in a fishing village where there had been developed co-operatives in housing, marketing, fishing, and in many other respects. Perhaps the most sophisticated and successful example of a rural community thriving on the basis of co operative organisation is the moshav in Israel. I have seen splendid examples in Israel of a thriving village life on the basis of full co-operation.

Therefore I am suggesting that in tackling our village problems we shall have much to learn if we look abroad to the examples of successful co-operative development in the rural community. I am glad to note that nowadays many people other than merely those like myself who come from the established co-operative movement, are giving much thought to the possibilities of co-operative organisation to meet the problems which we have been discussing.

I wish to give just two examples of how the National Consumer Council is thinking in co-operative terms when it faces the problems of the consumer in the village community. When my noble friend Lord Young of Dartington was chairman of the National Consumer Council he gave the lead in the establishment of so-called bulk-buy groups, where-by on a community arrangement, in what might be called miniature co-operative societies, people went on behalf of the group to the supermarket and brought back goods in quantity, and then divided them among the members of their bulk- buy groups, thereby overcoming the problem to which my noble friend Lord Walston referred, of prices in the village being disadvantageous compared with the supermarkets. These bulk-buy groups on the co-operative principle enable the discounts of the supermarkets available in the town to be shared with those in the remoter parts of the country—


My Lords, what does the noble Lord think the bulk-buy groups did to the village store?


I am thinking, my Lords, of the advantage to the people living in the village, and I see nothing wrong with giving them the benefit of joint action mutual aid. I believe also that given proper discussion, it would be quite possible for the village store to join in such arrangements. There is no need for the village store to be antagonistic.

Only this week the National Consumer Council has come out with another report that is very relevant to our debate. This is its admirable study of rural transport, and the Council has done a valuable service in bringing together information about unconventional ways of providing transport for the rural communities, including such matters as car sharing which also embodies essentially the co-operative principle. As I have said, the Council has done us a very good service, because a great number of experiments are going on, and so far as I know, this is the first time that information about them has been collected and an analysis made. I have not yet been able to study the report as I hope to be able to do, but I have seen sufficient of it to know its value. I regret however that it seems to me to have reached rather too categorical a conclusion about the value of the unconventional transport schemes which it analyses. I say this because one of its major conclusions is that it is strongly opposed to the replacement of conventional with unconventional transport schemes. I consider that it is premature for the Council to have reached such a firm conclusion because it may be, especially if co-operative business principles are incorporated in a number of the schemes, that a new conventional transport system could be organised appropriate for the rural communities. So I think that we ought—unlike the Consumer Council—to reserve judgment about the possibilities of these kinds of arrangements.

I would point to the fact that in both the bulk-buy schemes and the experimental transport scheme to which I have referred the question of volunteer labour arises, and it is a problem which must be faced with both imagination and care. I was glad to see that in the Press this week the Volunteer Centre came out with a statement which called attention to guidelines which its organisation has drawn up for the regulation of volunteer work, which is very important in providing facilities in villages, and it seems to me that the approach of the guidelines is a very responsible one to the question of volunteer work being acceptable as against paid employment. Obviously it is a delicate area that needs to be carefully negotiated, and I was glad to see that the director of the Volunteer Centre, Mr. Ian Bruce, said that they have successfully fought long and hard to achieve recognition of their guidelines by trade unions and professional associations.

It may be useful if I sum up the kind of approach that I am seeking to put before your Lordships in relation to the co operative possibilities in the rural area by referring to a Press cutting which I came across a few months ago. It summarised a report by the Hereford and Worcester County Council on the rural dilemma as they see it in their area, and a series of proposals which they make to overcome the problems which they analysed. It seems to me that in the case of all but one of the proposals in the list which they put forward it is possible for there to be a co-operative approach to the provision of the service that they have in mind. First, the establishment of new, small, craft industries. Small co-operative workshops are possible in relation to that proposal. Then, the turning of abandoned barns into small workshops. They could be turned into co-operative workshops. Next, the setting up of a rural radio service. In other countries there are radio services provided on a consumer basis, a co-operative basis. Then, community newspapers. In other countries there are newspapers run on a co-operative basis by the readers, the journalists and the printers. Then, new housing co-operatives. It goes without saying that the co-operative input is there. Then there is a point I have already dealt with, mini-bus and car-sharing services.

I could go through all this list of practical proposals that the Hereford and Worcester County Council are putting forward, and I believe it would be seen that in each case there is a co-operative input which can be of great value. I have simply quoted this list, and made my suggestions as to how these matters could be approached, in order to illustrate to your Lordships the great potential, the widespread possibilities that there are, in the application of the co-operative method of running industries and services in this field. As I said earlier, I am glad to see that more and more people and more and more organisations are coming to realise the significance of these principles, and I only hope that, as the Consumer Council and other organisations are doing, more and more bodies, both official and unofficial, will give increasing attention to the possibilities of co-operative organisation.

6.22 p.m.


My Lords, I have listened with tremendous interest to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Oram, much of which I agree with and much of which is already being practised in a great many of the rural areas today. I do not know so much about the city areas. I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Walston, very much indeed for inaugurating this debate, which I think has been quite fascinating. I particularly enjoyed the speech of my noble friend Lady Vickers, whose descrip- tion of her own village community I thought extremely encouraging. As always, I enjoyed the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek, with whom I nearly always agree in everything he says. On this occasion, however, I agreed with him more than on most occasions in his condemnation of railway closures. If ever there was a short-sighted and altogether unfortunate action, it was taking all the railways from the rural areas. All I can say is that I fought like a tiger, and went to every possible headquarters of the Ministry of Transport—in London, in Glasgow, in Edinburgh; anywhere—in order to try to stop them taking the railways away from the Border area, where I live. But they had made up their minds, nothing would induce them to do anything different, and they would not believe a word I said.

What is coming home to them now is that in this particular area, where we have colossal forests and they are just now beginning to cut the trees, the roads are narrow, twisty and dotted with little bridges which will not carry these huge lorries. They are going to have to spend millions on roads—putting in new bridges, taking out the corners and all the rest of it—in order to be able to take the trees which are beginning to be cut (and it will go on for 30 or 40 years) to the areas where they are going to be used in manufacture. All that could have been put on the railways and done by the railways and it would have saved them millions. However, it is no good having hindsight; but I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek, very much indeed. As to the noble Lord, Lord Collison, whose views on these matters I always agree with, I think he has a real understanding of the needs of the rural community.

I think I am the only other Scot to put their name down for this debate, and I follow my noble friend Lord Mackie, who speaks with great authority and who cannot be gainsaid, not even by me—which is quite formidable. However, I agree with all that he has said today. I do not always agree with him, but on this occasion I certainly do. I should like, just shortly, to say a few words about a very rural area in Scotland where I have lived now for more than 40 years and where, for some 30 years, I was a member of the county council. In order not to discourage anyone in this debate, I have listed the improvements which have taken place in those 30 years—improvements which have made our rural centre very much nicer to live in and very much more agreeable for everyone concerned. These improvements are quite simple. When I started off there was no electricity, the water supplies were extremely indifferent, there was very little drainage and the houses in the rural areas were not modernised. Today there is electricity everywhere, water supplies which are first-class and drainage and sewage systems everywhere. In fact, our county council will not allow people to live in a rural house, even if it is a long way away, which has not got modern conveniences. They may not always be attached to the main drainage system, but they have a septic tank and a water supply, and you can live there perfectly happily with just as good amenities as anywhere else. Telephones, too, I think, have been a tremendous help, and nearly everyone is on the telephone.

Transport is more difficult. In the old days there were buses; today, there are practically no buses. On the other hand, there is hardly an agricultural worker—in fact, there is not an agricultural worker, but there is hardly a village person who has not got access to a motor car. Every agricultural worker has a motor car, and a tremendous number of people living in villages have motor cars. But some have not. Old people and people who are retired have not got them, and, for them, transport is much more difficult. We have been successful—I think many people have spoken about this here—in getting help from the Post Office buses, and they are a great success; but, on the whole, I would say that transport is less good than it was unless you have a motor car. The number of people with motor cars in any area must be something like, I would say, 90 per cent., so one has that problem of the 10 or 15 per cent. for whom we have to find transport. But the percentage is very much smaller than it was 40 years ago, when the average agricultural worker had a bicycle and no motor car at all.

The question of shopping—and I was very interested in what the noble Lord, Lord Oram, had to say about co-operation—is to some extent helped by mobile shops. We still have Co-operative vans which deliver milk and all sorts of groceries, and we still have vans which come round to the rural areas. I do not say that it makes the food very cheap—it does not—but if you do not want to go into the local store (the Fine Fare, the Tesco or whatever it is) 10 miles away, and are prepared to put the amount of money which you would have used on petrol into buying food on your doorstep, it is available. I think that all those things are important, and village life has been improved in these ways.

I should like to support all those who have spoken in terms of the responsibility of local authorities and the responsibility of the parish councils. I think that is most important. We have not got parish councils in Scotland. We used to have a small committee, which was the advisory committee to the local county councillor, which in my case was myself, but those committees have now been replaced by community councils. I am no longer on the county council but I understand that the community councils work well and bring the community into local government in every sphere. I am extremely keen about the village hall. I think that that has been a tremendous asset to village life. It is a centre where various activities can go on. They may be playgroups, nursery schools, old people's meetings, dancing or carpet bowls. It is vital. I spent many years of my life raising money to enlarge our village hall and I do not regret a single hour of that work. It made it one of the best in the area. It is the centre of all the village community life, and I am sure that that is extremely important.

Perhaps noble Lords in the villages they spoke about do not have this sort of thing, but we have a forestry village. These villages have come about since the war because forestry is now one of the biggest industries in the Borders. I fought hard to prevent the Commission from putting their forestry village away from existing villages in order that it should be near the forest. Well, it does not matter a scrap about trees; nobody is going to knock them down or do them an injury simply because people are not living next door to the trees; but it is very important that the forestry village should be integrated with the existing village community. We have now got that. I do not know how many years it has taken: they began in 1946–47. The Forestry Commission have been of great help and have been a great asset.

The people who come in integrate with the existing villagers, partly because of the village school and the village pub, of course, and partly because we have still got a village church. That is also a great centre. I have always fought hard to make a community that comprises all sorts of interests—but in one area and not separated by a mile or two. You can take people by bus for a mile or two to work, but if they have to live there and are away from all the village amenities, you have a different proposition and you have two villages. That is fatal; for neither really co-operates. That, I think, is something that I should like to recommend in any development in rural areas.

One or two noble Lords mentioned education. I think that I agree with all that was said about it. But there is one great problem about rural education. I was for eight or 10 years chairman of the education committee and I did my best to try to preserve as many rural village schools as I could. But when it came down to eight children with a teacher, someone bringing meals, someone cleaning the school, and so on, then there was an enormous bill. I once made a calculation that it would cost as much to educate the eight children in the village school as it would to send them to a public school. I felt that I could not justify that to the ratepayers. So we put the children into a taxicab and drove them to a larger school—which, I admit, was a pity but it was the only way to do it. It has worked out fairly well. We keep as many as we can of the schools, but only those two-teacher schools with between 30 or 40 pupils. That has made a great difference. I agree that shutting rural schools is a most unfortunate thing to have to do.

One development which has been a great success in our rural area is that of outdoor centres, which are run by the county council, where children can go for a week or a fortnight at a time. There they are given opportunities to study all sorts of rural life. They go for long walks, they are taken to farms and so on. It happens that one of these rural centres is very close to where I farm. It is run by the Northumberland Education Com- mittee. It was an ex-Forestry Commission place and the Forestry Commission when it built the village did not want all the equipment, mostly wooden huts but they were very nice. This was bought by the Northumberland Education Committee and they turned it into one of these centres for outdoor studies and the children go for a fortnight at a time and have a splendid time.

I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, who said something about integrating the in-comers with the existing arrangements. These children have the complete run of my farm, which is a very large farm with sheep and cattle; that is, provided they shut the gates and provided they do not bring dogs. As noble Lords know, that is fatal with sheep. It has been a huge success. The children walk across this lovely land and it is a tremendous success. We have also started three others in the county. They are not quite so large as this one; but they, too, started partly in connection with the Forestry Commission. One of them is in the middle of a forest keilder and another quite near the forest. Again, these are for rural studies. We began with one of these. It was a voluntary effort, a speculation, and I managed to get the Carnegie United Kingdom Trust to give me some money to start it. It was such a success that the local authorities have taken them over, and we now have three. Developments of this kind in rural areas create tremendous interest and I should like to see those developments furthered if possible.

I should like to pick up one point of the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, about the breakdown of the landlord and tenant system. I am sure that that is a great mistake. In the area in the Borders where I live we have three great estates which have been going for hundreds of years. The tenancy of those farms goes on from father to son also for anything from 50 years to 100 years or 200 years. This has worked well. If that land gets sold to an insurance company or to some faceless landlord, that interest between tenant and landlord will go; and that will be a disaster. I know that the word "landlord" in the mouths of many people is a horrid word, but it is nothing of the kind in the rural area where I live. The landlords are all extremely good. There are extremely well-run farms and the tenancy goes on from father to son. They have been an enormous success. I am not keen about the great amorphous, non-rural companies buying land for investment and letting it at as high a rent as possible in order to make money for their companies. I am against that, and I hope that it will not go as far as that.

My Lords, I must not go on. I am like the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek, in that this is a subject I have a great love for and great experience of. There is one thing that I should like to mention, but it is not on quite the same subject as the one we have been talking about. We are not really talking about agriculture but as a farmer I am always worried about the amount of land that gets taken up by building round our urban centres. We must not discuss this; it is another subject. But what is happening, as I have been told and as I had experience of, is that because so many cities and largish towns are decanting their population to the peripheries of their towns, taking agricultural land to do so, in many cities we have really deprived centres, centres which are almost dead. What is ironical is this. I have been involved, to some extent as an experiment, in what are called city farms—as a farmer I may say that they have nothing to do with farming. You take some derelict land in the middle of a city and turn it into what is called a city farm where a small group of children may be taught. There may be a cow or a few sheep there or someone growing something, all on a tiny scale because the land in the middle of the town is derelict. How much better not to take the agricultural land which is good, which is outside the towns, for decanting people from the middle of the cities, and develop the middle of the cities into what they should be, urban housing, without, as the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek, said, these ghastly great high-rise flats, but ordinary developments of housing which we have been used to all our lives and which could still be preserved.

I have noticed while going through some of our small towns that whole streets have been boarded up. The houses are going to be knocked down. Many of them are rather good late nineteenth century houses. If they were to be reconstructed inside they would be rather interesting and nice houses for people to live in right in the middle of the cities. Carlisle is a good example. It is an old, interesting industrial city, and they have saved many of their old houses, not knocking them down but reconstructing behind their attractive early nineteenth century façades. Many areas could be dealt with in that way instead of just being an empty space in the middle of the town. These places could be used for the best purpose: for people to live in, without so much encroachment into rural areas.

That point is perhaps wide of this particular debate but it is something we can look out for. It is vital that this rural life, the community life, and so on, should be encouraged and preserved. It should not be allowed to collapse. Above all, do not let us have it revived by people, as somebody said, buying expensive houses and only staying in them one weekend a month and not being part of the community at all. That is just as bad. We must have the real community life in which we all take part. That is what makes for happy village life, and that is what I stand for and should like to see developed as much as possible all over the country.

6.43 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to refer in a moment to some of the points that the noble Baroness has been talking about and I hope to be able to give some good news on some of them. May I start by saying that I must resist the temptation under the conventions of the House—the Addison Rules as they are called—to talk directly about the body I chair; namely, the Development Commission. I am very grateful for the kind remarks made by your Lordships about the Commission. I was particularly pleased that yesterday a Minister of the Government—at last—finally said in public that the Development Commission is virtually now the English rural development agency. To have achieved our final recognition in this sense is very pleasing.

Secondly, I should not like to try to match the eloquence of my noble friend Lord Walston or that of the noble Lord, Lord Elton, in defining the problem. My noble friend talked about the contrast between the standards of the countryside and the urban uncaring impersonal society. I took down his words. He had many other penetrating remarks of that kind in his diagnosis. I took down one phrase of Lord Elton's which particularly entranced me. He said that we must see that the countryside is a place in which to earn a living and not just a place in which to live. I think I took down his words exactly. If the noble Lord could put that into a short Latin tag we might make it the motto of the Development Commission. It is a very useful phrase.

I do not want to talk too closely about the problems or be too eloquent in the diagnosis; I want to talk about solutions, practical ideas for how we can solve some of the issues that have been raised today and are being raised in every one of these debates. The first thing is to be fairly clear on what we mean by deprivation in the countryside. We are talking about a whole lot of things that are summarised in a study to which my noble friend Lord Oram referred carried out by the Herefordshire County Council. They talked about the following factors as being the important ones: the adequate accessibility of of water; the adequate accessibility of food; of shelter and warmth; housing to acceptable standards; relationships and communications, making sure that we provide facilities and means of adequate contact with other people in the society of the rural areas; making sure that proper health services and medical care are available; tackling education near to the people; making sure that there are recreation and leisure facilities; above all, making sure that there is a variety and a choice of work and that it is acceptable to people living in the rural areas.

That is a good catalogue of what we are talking about. When those are missing, we have rural deprivation and the decline starts. The good news that I want to bring concerns a number of these issues. First, let me say to the noble Lord, Lord Elton, that happily it is now the case that the Housing Corporation has been persuaded to operate in the more distressed parts of the rural areas. This is a programme which has now been mounted in small beginnings. Where local authorities want it to come in, the Housing Corporation makes sure that housing associations are made available to build 12 or 20 houses in suitable localities in suffering rural areas. That is a good move. Secondly, the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, raised the matter of tourism. The Government have now relented and are allowing tourism loans in areas of rural decline, and not just in the developing areas.


And grants, my Lords?


No, I do not know about that. Certainly we are getting tourist loans, and that is a good start along the way. I should not like to offer an answer to the other point as I do not know the answer. My Lords, those are two pieces of good news on matters which have been raised today. Let me go on with my list of good news. In the case of the provision of alternative employment, small factory programmes—mainly workshops—which do not disfigure the countryside now number the fantastic total of 622 which have been approved by Government. That is 1¾ million square feet of factory space now going up in the countryside in the form of small workshops. Approximately 120 are built and occupied. Another three dozen are ready and most have been finished in the past three months. They are being let as fast as they are built. Another 280 will go up in the next financial year alone. This is an enormous impact. I will refer to one village in a moment and explain how this operates.

More money has been made available for the Development Commission nad COSIRA, and at last the Government, under pressure, have guaranteed a period of five years. This is the first time that we have been able to plan ahead on a firm basis on a substantial amount of money. It is never as much as we want, but we have made great progress. If we take one county alone and look at the loans given out to small enterprises by the Development Commission's subsidiary, COSIRA from some of this money—and I pick one figure, but I could take many—since 1977 in Cornwall alone 412 jobs have been provided in the rural areas, simply on loans by COSIRA. That is a sort of mushroom figure going on all round the country, and I have taken only one example.

Again, to reassure the noble Lord, Lord Elton, resistance is breaking down. It is no longer true, on any scale, that local authorities resist the building of small factories and workshops in the country side. They are now more co-operative than they have ever been. Nor do local people any longer resist them on any scale. Of course there are some who resist, but call a village meeting and say that jobs are at stake and you know what the answer will be at that village meeting. It is that that counts in the end and gets the programmes under way. Again, the transport experiments in unconventional forms of co-operation and individual provision in the rural areas are going ahead very well indeed, and now we have to look at how we should begin more effectively to organise them and subsidise them, if that becomes necessary.

Going further, the loans we are able to give now attract advantageous rates of interest in the areas most suffering, so that they are on all-fours with the loans given in urban areas. The local authorities are accepting their responsibilities in the whole revival of the rural areas, and I agree very strongly with those speakers today who have pointed to the great breakthrough in the booklet mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Sandford: Strategy for Survival, published by the Association of District Councils. It means that these new bodies—and they are very young, after all—have accepted the necessity to take a firm hold on economic development in their areas rather than be just a passive service of local government.

Looking further afield, many bodies are sustaining extra work beoynd what Government agencies are doing. The noble Lord, Lord Sandford, is eminent in helping bodies like Task-Force North. All kinds of such bodies are helping to underpin the efforts of Government or neo-government agencies. The Dartington Trust is thinking of putting half a million pounds into one area of Devon alone, just for small businesses. Discussions are taking place with the Post Office on how exactly the bus service of the Post Office may need to be subsidised in some reas. Above all, the rural community councils are flourishing on minute budgets—£10 harnesses £1,000 worth of voluntary effort through those councils. No costs ever become exorbitant in their work, and it is extraordinary what their achievements amount to in the end in providing local societies, help for the aged and all those things that matter so much in making rural life tolerable.

I think we tend now to go on for too long about the problems without always recognising that we are solving many of them now, increasingly, and that we are making substantial progress. I should like to take, as an example, the village of Bishop's Castle in Shropshire. That village was in decline; but first of all the Development Commission built a couple of small factories, which were immediately tenanted. Then money was found in order to give £10,000 towards reviving the cattle market which had been disused for some years. In addition, the council put in money and opened the cattle market. That market in its first few months had a turnover of £1 million, and the village is now thronged with buyers on one and two days a week. The village pub is making money again; the village shops are brightening themselves up. The village garage is getting money, not just from the people who come to the sales but from the factories, in transporting their products. Two more factories are going up and, because of the cattle market, a private enterprise has now built an abattoir. And so the whole multiplier effect is taking shape and the face of that village has been changed in a couple of years—all for a very modest investment indeed, and with small workshop units taken up as quickly as they are built. There are problems, as there are in any area: some go bankrupt, but never very many of them. It is a risky business in rural areas, and I might say that the loss on loans in rural areas to small enterprises amounts to 0.16 per cent. of the total money lent: it is a negligible figure. So this is how small enterprise is now flourishing and helping to revive the rural areas.

I should like now to talk about the social problems, because it is these that we are not yet solving. We ought to be thinking how it could be done, and I should like to make some suggestions. What am I really talking about, for a start? We have to find a way of making sure that all the amenities, the facilities and the self-help can be organised in any area to make sure that people will want to live there or to continue living there. What are we talking about? We are talking about how we get commun- ity transport schemes organised—buses, social car schemes and so on. How do we make sure that playgroups are formed, recreational facilities are attracted or organised locally, particularly for young people?

How do we make sure that luncheon clubs spring up and are then run by voluntary effort? How do we make sure that the welfare services do not suddenly close down, with no early-warning system? How do we make sure that the shops and the post office survive? How do we make sure that bulk-buy clubs are introduced, where appropriate? How do we make sure that the information is made available about what the district and county councils offer in the way of services? Can we help to dig local councils into making better housing available and having more housing co-operatives and more housing associations? How can we enliven parish councils and make sure there is a two-way flow of information between statutory authorities of various kinds and remote residents? How do we establish contact points at which people can contact their local authority or a Government Department?

I could go on with the list, but this is where we are not yet succeeding in local areas of the deep rural districts. I can only think aloud about this. The Development Commission has just had six pilot studies made on how to tackle these problems in areas in various counties. These are pilot studies done not just by our own staff but by county councils and outside research bodies; in other words, we have had an input of other people in addition to our own thoughts inside the headquarters.

What is coming through quite clearly from the results of these studies is that we may, in the end, somehow need to find just one more body to add to the rural community council staff, or to be in some sort of liaison situation with the district and county councils. This man's jot)—he will be the equivalent to a person sometimes found in the urban areas—will be to make sure that the wheels are oiled and to organise the voluntary effort, to make sure that the local community newspaper gets published, that local authorities are encouraged to set up contact points and to make sure that the community bus system does not just collapse because the buses do not regularly run and are not regularly serviced. It may need just one more person—not a bureaucrat, but a man on the ground, a field organiser, drawing all the threads together and making sure that activity really takes place over these problems involving social amenities and facilities and local self-help. This is an area to which the thoughts of bodies such as my own, and, I hope, of the Government as well, and of voluntary bodies, such as those with which the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, is associated, will increasingly turn in the coming months and years. If I may end on this note—


My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Lord before he leaves that point? I have been following him with very great interest, because I was concerned with the establishment of the countryside officers under the Development Commission, working in the rural community councils. How does the person whom he has been envisaging differ from these countryside officers who are already in post?


That is a very good question, my Lords. They were established for different purposes, in order to give people access through the countryside officer to local authorities and statutory bodies on subjects such as planning matters. They are really environmentalists, making sure that local people's voices are heard on environmental and planning matters. But the noble Lord is quite right, and it is a very acute question. What is the future role of these, in conjunction with any new ones that I was talking about? All this is to be thought out very carefully now in a new stage, a new surge, of rural development.

I would conclude in this way. My own belief is that we are well on the way to solving the economic problems. They are not solved; we are on the way. We know how to do it. The important point is that we have harnessed the local authorities into that process. It is their action plans on the basis of which factories and workshops are built, on which houses arc built, and so on. But the next stage, having got the economic bandwagon rolling very well in the rural areas is; how do we now do an equivalent set of action plans in the social field for these suffering rural areas? I think it is the task of another two or three years of hard slog in all the organisations concerned. I believe that, at the end of that time, we shall be able to look around and say that in, perhaps, a decade at most we shall have made an enormous impact on the suffering rural areas. I hope that after that time debates here in your Lordships' House will have a rather more optimistic note than they have had in recent years about the face and the survival of the rural areas.

7.3 p.m.


My Lords, if I were now awarding prizes in what might have been a village school in a village that was formerly near where I live called Knighton Sutton, I should, of course, award the prize for initiative to the noble Lord, Lord Walston, and the prize for persistent good work to my noble friend Lord Sandford and the noble Lord, Lord Northfield. But the most important prize for cheerfulness and encouragement for the future would have to be split between my noble friend Lady Elliot and the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek, because a special commendation which the noble Lord, Lord Northfield, himself mentioned needs to be added for optimism about the future, not based on a romantic and rose petal vision of the past, but based on a fair understanding of what can be done, because so much has already been achieved, despite the statistic that I have in front of me—500 village schools closed in the past 10 years. There is gloom, but there is more cheerfulness and I was very glad that the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek, contributed to this cheerfulness. I, too, plan, in honouring my pledge to the noble Lord, Lord Mackie, to take 10 minutes, but I am afraid that they may be a Davies of Leek 10 minutes.

I mentioned the name of a village which used to be near where I live. My house is now in the middle of a field, because hundreds of years ago the village of Knighton Sutton disappeared. Knighton Sutton is a farmhouse, and Bishop Sutton—I do not know whether divine intervention had any part to play in this—has grown enormously and its population has quintupled since the war, with overflow from Bristol. I am talking about a part of the country which is 10 miles from a major conurbation in a Green Belt. Between the two is the very ancient village of Stowey, which was already there in the 12th century, whose population is now less than it was at the time of the 1826 tithe map. So that, however enthusiastic and optimistic we are, we must accept that villages shrink and grow, and some decline; and whether it was the Black Death or my ancestors that caused Knighton Sutton not to persist into the 20th century, I am not certain.

But when we are cheerful, we must not think that we can plan everything. However good the great work that the noble Lord, Lord Northfield, and his colleagues are doing—and it is good because it builds on energy, local initiative, enterprise and confidence that is already there within the local community, gives it encouragement and is not implanted by some alien and remote body against the wishes of local inhabitants—each noble Lord will have his own private horror of what 1984 and a wholly unpalatable society might bring. I must confess to your Lordships that I am far more frightened by the mandarins of Marsham Street than by the bureaucrats of Brussels.

The monolithic mentality of some planners must not do to the rural areas what has already been achieved in the heart of Liverpool, or even in the city of Bristol, where, by appointing as planning officer a road engineer after the war, we have a marvellous city for the motorist, but a city whose historic beauty and past have been made subservient to the ring road. That type of mentality must not start, in this mood of optimism, to weave a scourge of destruction through the countryside. We must make sure that developments always go in the way that the noble Lord, Lord Northfield, was indicating—building on local enthusiasm and local enterprise, and welding the new together with the old. I wholly deplore isolated rows of council houses and isolated private developments, that set one type of employee against another and make a rigid hierarchy within what should be not a homogeneous community, but a varied community of people of every kind.

What, in the minutes remaining to me, should we avoid? I think that we should avoid the grand design, the over confident forecast and the instant solution. I read in this excellent book, published by Child Poverty Action and called Rural Poverty, a phrase that made things I vivid to me. It was this, and I quote from their conclusions: Most deprived people do not live in deprived areas. The vast majority of the poor live outside of the decaying inner city areas and any other small geographical area". I do not know whether or not that is correct. I am not a social scientist. But when we are thinking of rural deprivation, we have to get away from the mentality which says "You can zone this area blue, that green and the other red. We have got it all tidy. There it is. This one is good and this one is bad". Just as zoning within the inner city has destroyed the back-street shop, the back-street craftsman and the back-street factory, that give a feeling of variety and local employment, so the problems of rural deprivation are scattered and very different.

I should like to continue with the theme of encouraging local initiative by asking the noble Baroness, Lady David, whether what I am told is true, about the attitude of the present Government to grants for village halls. As other noble Lords have said during the debate, village halls can play a very great part—especially when the village is expanding or a new type of employment has come to it—in keeping people in the village and providing a place for young people to hold their own functions: to encourage youth clubs and so on. Is it correct that the grant for backing village halls has been cut by 55 per cent? If that is so, I think that we ought to get rid of a few more of Tony Benn's co-operatives and shove the money back into village halls, because they would be far more productive and would last much longer so far as the welfare of the community is concerned.

I want to turn to a whole variety of small matters. Where a demand has been shown for them, I have been informed that in some areas—in Devon, for example—banks have begun to open for one day a week in village halls. Obviously one cannot expect the noble Lord, Lord Northfield, or anybody else, to give them a huge grant to do this. Such a scheme must pay its way. However, any form of imaginative use of existing facilities, where there is co-operation between the private and the public, between the charitable trust and the local authority, between the Post Office and other profit-making organisations in the private sector, is something which we need to look at. It is very much the kind of task which the new Mr.X, whom the noble Lord, Lord Northfield, was trying to define at the end of his speech, will be looking at, if his job ever comes into being.

When we look at the subject we must do so with realism, but with confidence. If those in local and central Government will bolster up the great wealth of initiative and enterprise that in every village and hamlet is to be found waiting to be set alight, then the initiative will grow locally, with a little bit of fertilisation and a little bit of assistance from outside. It will remain local. It will not be an alien implant—as I am afraid so many new towns are—and will, perhaps, remain forever.

When we are looking at policies—this is a suggestion which I make in a purely personal capacity and it comes to me as a result of reading this book on rural poverty—many of the policies that we are thinking of for the vast majority of the working population and for the vast majority of families in Britain will have a dramatic and perhaps unexpected effect on those who are furthest away from towns, jobs and centres of population. What you do may be fine for 98 per cent. of the population, but it may have a totally unexpected effect by the time that it feeds its way through.

For example, we must think of the action that is planned regarding the road fund licence as opposed to increasing or lowering the cost of petrol. This will have a very marked effect. I should like the Central Policy Review Staff to co ordinate from a long term point of view, some form of planning and forecasting—very often wrong, probably, but at least attempting to do the job and publishing, in a Green Paper or some other form of discussion document, what the effects of a transport policy, or a policy for any other form of activity, might be upon those living within the rural community. By thinking ahead, we shall prevent the kind of rural deprivation of which we are speaking. That form of planning is far more useful, taking into account the side effects of what you are doing for other purposes, before it is too late. This, as I say, is far more useful than the imposition of blueprints upon little organisations and communities which do not want or need them because they can probably deal with the matter much better, provided they are given some encouragement.

May I conclude on a different note. Noble Lords might feel they have not had their 10 minutes' worth if I do not mention something to do with the European Community. I believe that the side effects of the Common Agricultural Policy on rural deprivation throughout the EEC, but particularly in this country, have not yet been fully examined. What we are speaking about in the Community is whether we are to go on reducing the the rural workforce. It has been slashed by 50 per cent. since 1958. That is fine if you have another job to go to. But if you come off a mountain in the Pyrenees and go on to the dole queue in Paris, what have you done? You have not saved public expenditure. You have helped to destroy a village community, where perhaps you lived at below starvation level, but where at least you continued a form of life which had existed for generations and which provided a landscape for the tourist to look at; otherwise it would have been submerged by brambles and bracken.

These are the problems of North Wales and the South-West. They are the same problems as those which are encountered over the relationship between tourism, agriculture and rural depopulation. I believe that those who are planning the Common Agricultural Policy and thinking only in terms of its next stage—that is, whether or not there should be co-responsibility levies—are missing some of the key points. It is the social aspects of the Common Agricultural Policy which have a very important bearing on today's debate. I hope that one message which will go to Marsham Street and to the bureaucrats in this country and which will also travel across the Channel to Brussels is that when we reform the Common Agricultural Policy—which must be done before it is submerged under an over-expensive wine lake or milk powder mountain—we must look at the social consequences for the rural communities and make sure that we get this right.

Even by the standards set by the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek, I think that I should sit down now and be quiet. When I fill in forms and am asked for my place of education, very often I feel, in my most honest moments, that I should put "educated by my step-children" or, if I am not feeling quite so bold as that, that I should put "education still continuing in the House of Lords". Today has been one of those occasions when I have enjoyed myself immensely. I look forward very much to hearing what the noble Baroness, Lady David, has to say.

7.19 p.m.

Baroness DAVID

My Lords, this has been an interesting, important and, I think on the whole, very encouraging debate. The subject of rural affairs is one which has rightly claimed a good deal of attention in this House in the past, and I am sure that it will continue to do so in the future. But the term "rural deprivation" is comparatively new and it represents a concept which I find particularly worrying, coming as I do from East Anglia, where some of our best farming land lies. This area of the country is, of course, very well known to the noble Lord, Lord Walston, who put down the Motion today and to whom I should like to pay tribute, not only for the quality of his helpful and delightful speech but also for his untiring work as the chairman of the Eastern Region Economic Planning Council. He has brought out very well the complexities of our rural problems.

Although rural deprivation may be a new term, it stems from the age-old problem of rural depopulation, which has been of concern to successive Governments since, and even before, World War II. These areas of rural depopulation contain less than 5 per cent. of our population, yet they cover about half the land surface of Great Britain, and there is a genuine doubt about the future of their communities. A conference has been held at the Café Royal in London on this subject over the past two days. Although I was unable to attend personally, I believe the noble Lord, Lord Elton, had a hand in its organisation. Delegates were invited from all walks of rural life, including agriculture, local government, police, the unions, social workers, teachers, parents, the catering and retail industries, planners and environmentalists, health services, transport and the Church, and the debates ranged over the whole field of countryside activities. The chair was taken by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Truro, and two other members of this House, the noble Baroness, Lady White, and the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, both of whom have a wealth of experience in matters of rural policy, contributed to the discussion. So it is most apposite that we should have this debate today to discuss the problems facing rural communities.

In the past few months there have been several notable initiatives in this field. Last August the Standing Conference of Rural Community Councils published a report on The Decline of Rural Services which provided a useful insight into the extent, and nature, of that decline. Based on a comprehensive survey, backed up by case studies, of villages in seven counties of South-West England, the report pointed out the special hardships faced by the elderly, and less affluent, in rural areas where services have closed or curtailed. It cited the fact mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Elton, that only 4 per cent. of villages in Wiltshire, and 8 per cent. in Somerset, now have their own dispensing chemist; and that in Cornwall 10 per cent. of villages lost their post office in the nine years to 1976.

The Association of District Councils have also recently completed a major study and published a memorandum entitled Rural RecoveryStrategy for Survival. Working from a survey of member councils, this set down a number of proposals for action which are now being discussed between the Association and those concerned in relevant Departments. There have been other studies too: and today this debate has provided a further contribution to fuller understand ing of these problems, I have listened with great interest to the views expressed by noble Lords and I shall ensure that their comments and suggestions are passed to the appropriate quarter.

We have had a full debate and I will not go over the details of the problems faced by those who live in rural areas; limited employment opportunities, declining public transport, the reduction in the numbers of schools and poor accessibility to services, entertainment and basic facilities have all been highlighted. Most of us would, I think, agree that by and large these problems are not of Government making. They stem basically from the growing efficiency of British agriculture. Fewer people are employed for a given output and there is a movement of labour out of agriculture. New types of employment have to some extent filled the gap and people have been drawn away from the countryside by the attraction of better incomes and services generally available in our towns. Thus economic and social changes occur and some rural communities have disintegrated, which in turn results in more emigration. Those that remain find that the reduced size of the community cannot support the services and amenities that they want. This causes more people to move away and the downward spiral of rural deprivation continues.

Of course, it would be wrong to overlook the benefits and attractions of life in the country. Sufficient evidence of this is provided by the number of people who live there by choice. But, at the same time, we must acknowledge that those with limited mobility may be as deprived—in terms of access to jobs, services and facilities—as people in some areas of urban deprivation. That is why Government policies generally must take account of the special circumstances and difficulties of people living in rural areas and should seek, so far as this can be done, to alleviate the adverse effects.

The key to maintaining a balanced social and economic pattern in our rural areas—and I believe that it is from this that all else flows—is new employment, as the noble Lord, Lord Walston, stressed. For, important as farming and forestry are in the countryside, the position today is that even in the more remote areas only a very small proportion of the population are employed in these primary industries. The main thrust of the Government's attack has been through the Development Commission, charged with promoting the economic and social welfare of rural areas. Through its agents, COSIRA (the Council for Small Industries in Rural Areas), and with the help of the English Industrial Estates Corporation, the Commission has in hand an impressive and effective programme of factory building from "nursery" units of 1500 sq. ft. to factories up to 10,000 sq. ft. The Commission works, of course, in the closest co-operation with local authorities, and in accordance with Action Plans prepared by the authorities, for the regeneration of their areas of depopulation. CoSIRA also provides credit, advisory and training services for small firms in rural areas. And in the rural parts of Development Areas CoSIRA assistance is also available for tourist accommodation projects. Some indication of the importance of such assistance is given by the fact that, at the end of the last financial year, more than £11 million was in the hands of borrowers.

The noble Lord, Lord Northfield, in his generally very encouraging speech, spoke of the work of the Development Commission and its plans for an expanded role in community and social development. The Government have already recognised the need for the Commission to look beyond the economic needs of rural communities, to do more than simply build advance factories and promote local employment. The long history and experience of the Commission over 70 years makes them a highly suitable organisation to perform this role. It is certain that they have the confidence of the voluntary bodies that are concerned with countryside activities. But any proposals which would result in a requirement for additional Exchequer funds naturally have to be carefully considered and we shall examine the Commission's proposals in depth when they are formally submitted.

The key role which the Government see for the work of the Commission is, I think, clearly demonstrated by the major increase in its fundings: from a programme of £6.1 million in 1976–77, the Commission has £15.5 million at its disposal in the present financial year. But jobs are only a first step. Many local authorities are also concerned about rural housing problems, and I know that to some it seems that the Government's policy of paying particular attention to the very serious problems of urban deprivation in our inner cities is causing us to neglect the rural situation. This is not the case; it was in order to allocate resources effectively in response to local needs that the Government introduced the housing investment programmes (HIP) system. Under this system, each local housing authority, both urban and rural, formulates a rolling programme of capital expenditure based on a comprehensive assessment of housing need in their area. Local authorities are encouraged to set out their priorities and solutions for meeting housing need in a statement of their housing strategy.

Housing needs concern us wherever they occur. But there are, of course, questions of scale to be taken into account. The scale of difficulties of our inner cities calls for a concentration of activity by Government. The dimension of the problem in rural areas is not quite the same but we nevertheless believe that, in the system of housing investment programmes, we have provided rural authorities with an effective means of indicating their needs in order that the Government can respond to them.

Rural authorities will also be helped by a change in the procedures made by the Department of the Environment last month, in line with one of the conclusions of the Association of District Councils paper on rural recovery. Since 29th January the Department has been dealing with proposals for small housing building schemes—schemes of 25 dwellings or less—in a new way. Except for certain difficult cases authorities are now able to submit proposals for small schemes to the Department with a reduced documentation and the Department approves a yardstick after a rapid processing with a minimum of checking and delay. The Government have of course recognised that the time-consuming detail of the normal yardstick procedures needs revision, and they are looking at new general approaches with the local authority associations; but the acceleration of processing of the smaller schemes which I have mentioned has been taken in advance of these longer-term decisions.

Transport, of course, is another major problem area identified by several speakers in this debate, and in many people's view it is the key problem. Unfortunately, it is the case that rural depopulation, the large rise in car ownership, and increased operating costs have combined to make the provision of public transport in the countryside increasingly unattractive. The closures of unremunerative railway branch lines in the 1960s and withdrawal of many loss-making bus routes have restricted rural mobility; and, however high the proportion of car owners, there will always be a substantial minority without easy access to transport facilities of any kind, such as the young, some housewives, the handicapped and the elderly. The Government naturally share the feelings of the House that it is socially desirable that such people should be provided with transport, but it would be wrong to disguise the high costs that can be involved.

There is no panacea for rural transport problems, but the Government are taking action. This action is of two types, strategic—through public transport planning—and tactical, by easing the way to local solutions of local problems. First, the strategic action. The shire county councils play a prominent role in the Government's rural transport policy. The Transport Act 1978 emphasises their transport responsibilities, and they are now required to produce public transport plans which cover 5-year periods. The first plans must be produced by March 1979, and I understand all but one county will get plans in by then, and thereafter annual revision is to be carried out. In preparing these plans, counties must consult with other local authorities, transport operators, trade unions and consumer organisations. Most county councils have shown a lively interest in their enhanced transport planning role. This is most encouraging, and is an indication that the basis may have been laid for the provision of a more efficient and better co-ordinated rural transport system in the future.

Plans are, of course, no use without money, and so financial support has been made available in the form of transport supplementary grant. This is a block grant paid to county councils, assessed on the basis of their transport plan and 70 per cent. of their "eligible" planned expenditure above a certain threshold is paid by the Exchequer. The amount nationally available for bus revenue support is currently £150 million per annum, and an increase of £15 million is planned by 1980–81.

The Government's policy on rural rail services remains that there should be no more major cuts. At the same time, an element of flexiblity is obviously required, and the 1977 Transport Policy White Paper proposed that local authorities be given greater power to assess the cost-effectiveness of rail services against other possible options. Once the public transport plan system is established, discussions on this proposal are due to take place. The Transport Act 1978 requires county councils to take account of rail services in their plans, and they are empowered to enter into agreements with British Rail to support local services or provide new facilities.


My Lords, if the noble Baroness has finished with transport—

Baroness DAVID

Not yet, my Lords. As for tactical action, where it is financially impossible to provide a conventional bus service, and public transport is inadequate or non-existent, the Government have opened the way for local initiative to fill the gaps. The noble Lord, Lord Mackie, asked for local authorities to use their initiative and this I think the Government are making easier in this way.

I should like to mention here the Norfolk community bus. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Norwich mentioned some rather extraordinary attitudes perhaps on the part of some Norfolk villagers. They are the first county to set up a community bus and I think they deserve a lot of credit for that. It certainly can fill a gap in rural areas, but there is no doubt that it does take a lot of organising. I was very glad that the gentleman who set it up (I do not seem to have his name here) was granted an MBE just recently.

I had a further question from the noble Lord, Lord Elton, on the railways. He referred to the costing principles applied by British Rail to branch lines. I under stand that the Association of County Councils is pursuing this question with the British Railways Board, and in addition my right honourable friend has received a number of representations from Members of Parliament which he is considering. I have now finished with transport.


My Lords, if the noble Baroness will permit me, she has spoken with pride of the Transport Act 1978 which laid down duties for county councils in preparing transport plans, and they have to be ready by March this year. Would she take the opportunity to convey to her right honourable friend that this House laid on the Government an obligation, which they accepted, to frame a policy for inland waterways. I understand that nothing has been started, and in reply to letters and written Questions I am given the information that nothing is being contemplated. If the Government lay duties on county councils and chase them up to do them, could they not set a better example by starting a policy on inland waterways, in regard to which they accepted an Amendment from this House?

Baroness DAVID

My Lords, I will convey what the noble Lord has said to my right honourable friend. I am sorry, I have not quite finished with transport.


Inland waterways?

Baroness DAVID

No, my Lords, unfortunately not. I shall continue on transport; this is rural transport experiments. In 1977 we launched a programme known as RUTEX to assess the potential role of various non-conventional modes of transport acting as supplements to the ordinary bus network. Early results from RUTEX influenced the shape of the Transport Act 1978 which relaxed the public service vehicle licensing requirements so that social car schemes and community buses could operate.

May I commend to noble Lords and to any other interested persons the Guide to Community Transport recently published by the Department of Transport and available from HMSO for £1.95. I should also like to commend Rural Rides which is a very nicely got up document which has come out only in the last few days and is produced by the National Consumer Council. The Guide to Community Transport draws on the practical experience gained from RUTEX and offers invaluable advice for local authorities who wish to tackle their transport problems themselves. Other services which are central to the viability of rural communities are health and education. There is, I know, concern about the closure of hospitals in rural areas, although nothing has been said about that today.

As for education, the particular bone of contention is undoubtedly the closure of village schools. This has been mentioned by many noble Lords, and it is, of course, an emotive subject. But noble Lords will be aware that the persistent decline in the school population is a dominating concern in current educational policy. By the end of the next decade the size of the school population will have fallen by a quarter. Changes on this scale present wholly new challenges and opportunities and it was against this backcloth that this Government took the initiative and issued Circular 5/77, Falling Numbers and School Closures, in June 1977. This asks local education authorities to make the most realistic assessment possible of future school population trends in their own areas, and then, in consultation with the managers or governors of voluntary schools, to examine systematically the educational opportunities offered to children in their schools and to consider how the premises might best be used. The Circular underlines the fact that the curriculum may become restricted in small schools and it is doubtful whether small schools can attract or retain the quality of staff, or command the quantity of material resources, necessary to compensate for the restriction imposed by size. The noble Baroness, Lady Elliot, I am glad recognised the necessity sometimes to close small schools.

In addition, a recent survey by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of primary education in England concluded, on the basis of a very wide-ranging investigation, that there was clear evidence that the performance of children suffered when, because of falling rolls, classes of mixed age ranges had to be introduced. On the other hand, the survey also led to the conclusion that differences in class size of between about 25 and 35 children made no difference to the children's scores on the NFER—National Foundation for Educational Research—objective tests of performance. Small may be beautiful, but the oft-quoted arguments in favour of small schools are open to question.

It is, of course, only the local education authority who can propose the closure of a state school and they are rightly responsive to local views. Generally, they are well aware of the special place that village schools have in the affections of local people and the role they can play in village life. Before deciding whether to approve a proposal to cease to maintain a school, the Secretary of State takes into consideration all the relevant factors, including the social and geographical ones. But in the end that which weighs most heavily is the need to decide what is in the best educational interests of the children concerned.

There are many other forms of action by Government directed against rural deprivation, which I have no time to do more than mention. For instance, in the farming sector, there are special grants for those who farm in the "less favoured areas": in this context, the uplands. Then there is the range of support which Government give to promoting tourism—including the initiative to develop tourist projects in certain parts of the countryside with weak economies. And there is the community development programme of the Development Commissioners: for example, the pilot studies they have carried out to indicate how the economic work of the Commission can be complemented by social initiatives; and their aid to Rural Community Councils. It is important also to remind ourselves that some services to rural areas have, in fact, been substantially improved: for instance some 97 per cent. of properties in rural areas now have piped water compared with a pre-war situation in which at least a million people in the countryside lacked this basic service. I want to say something about the longer-term future.


My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the noble Baroness, but before she leaves the miscellaneous items I point out that I mentioned in my speech that one of the shortcomings in the tourist area is that the tourist boards cannot make grants in remote rural areas unless they happen to correspond to industrial development areas. The noble Lord, Lord Northfield, led me to think that there was perhaps some movement in that connection and said that there had been a relaxation in respect of loans, which is helpful. Can the noble Baroness say whether there has or has not been a change in respect of grants from the regional tourist boards?

Baroness DAVID

My Lords, I have a little more information about that. I intended to give it at the end of my remarks, but as the noble Lord has intervened I shall tell him now. In November 1978 the Government extended the availability of assistance under Section 4 of the Development of Tourism Act 1969 to intermediate areas as well as development and special development areas, to which it was previously confined. To have extended the scheme to the whole country would have required a very large increase in the staff of the board. Available finance would have had to be spread very thinly and many applications rejected. Two-fifths of England are now covered, but we shall review the eligible areas again in two or three years time. I have a Press notice which I can give the noble Lord later.


My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness.

Baroness DAVID

My Lords, I shall now move on to the longer-term future. Here, I think, the pattern must be shaped by efforts to reach a better understanding of the problems which face rural communities. Some may say that we know these all too well; and in one sense, of course, that is true. But what we see are symptoms of a deeper, more complex imbalance of factors, not all of which are, as yet, fully understood. If, therefore, we are to make a lasting and informed attack on these problems we need to explore their basic causes—and act on those, at source.

As part of this learning process the Department of the Environment has put in hand a programme of research. One project is concerned directly with rural deprivation, and will investigate its form and causes in the context of access to services and facilities, looking, too, at the effects on different groups of people in the communities concerned and variations between different types of community. Another project centres on the process of decision making by public authorities: its nature, the extent to which decision-makers take account of rural requirements and the implications and effects for specific rural communities. A third will look at planning policies, as they are applied to rural settlements. In particular it will examine the effects of "key settlement" policies which have tended to concentrate services on selected villages as a focus for the surrounding communities.

I am sorry that the right reverend Prelate is not present, because I think that the question of the key settlements is very much what he had in mind when he suggested his pilot scheme. I do not think there is any great merit in setting up his modern Domesday Book. It is not so much a catalogue that is required, as an analysis of the effect of the key settlement policies and I think that this research project will do just that. I should also mention two other studies, the first concerned with the role of the rural primary school in the wider social context of the village community; the second with the economies of rural communities in our national parks.

Finally, I come to the work of the Countryside Review Committee—an interdepartmental group of officials set up to look at the countryside at strategic level; to assess the pressures it faces and how far present policies can cope with them. Economic and social aspects have been crucial to CRC's exploration of this issue—though, of course, its remit goes wider, to cover all factors which make up the countryside equation.

CRC has pursued its work through the issue of a series of discussion papers. One of these, Rural Communities, dealt with the kinds of problems which we have debated today, and invited the submission of views and comments from the public in order to try to establish an agreed approach to these matters. That response—including the memorandum, to which I referred earlier, from the Association of District Councils—is at present under study and CRC will be drawing up, during the course of this year, recommendations for action. I cannot, of course, anticipate the Committee's conclusion. But one aspect on which they have previously placed much emphasis is the need to treat the problems of rural areas on a comprehensive, "across the board" basis: what, of course, we have termed a "total approach" in tackling the problems of our inner cities.

It is too early to indicate how this might be achieved. But we shall clearly need some means of co-ordinating policies to ensure that life continues in our rural communities. We do not want fossilisation. There is no evidence to suggest that depopulation will be halted in the foreseeable future and some aspects of the old rural society and the old cultures will continue to disappear. But we cannot contemplate with equanimity further emigration on a wholesale scale from the countryside to our congested towns.

We have had a full debate; the problems of our rural communities will not disappear overnight. But I do think that, in the past few years, we have taken steps to stem the slide and that the future now holds growing promise for efforts to maintain the distinctive lifestyle of our rural areas. We owe much, in this respect, to the great interest displayed in this subject by a wide range of people, an interest which this present debate has served to stress and, I hope, to amplify. One or two other questions have been raised by noble Lords and I shall be happy to answer them in writing.

7.49 p.m.


My Lords, it is quite clear that the whole House will agree with me when I offer congratulations to the noble Baroness, Lady David, on the masterly way in which she has summed up this debate, answered so very many of the questions raised and, on top of that and far more important, given us a very encouraging rundown of what the Government have done and are doing. For all those who are interested in this problem, and that is a great many people, it is very valuable to have all these activities put together so clearly and so concisely. I know that we are all very grateful to the noble Baroness for doing this. It is hard to believe that it is the first time she has made a speech from the Dispatch Box. I am, of course, also grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part, as well as to all noble Baronesses. Today, the House has shown, by those who have spoken, how very well equipped it is to deal with a wide range of subjects and how many noble Lords there are in your Lordships' House who, from their personal experience over a very long time, understand what these problems of the countryside are.

As I understand it, the general tenor of the debate has been an agreement that there is some form of deprivation in large parts of the countryside. Possibly the only exception to that was the speech by the noble Baroness, Lady Vickers, who seems to live in an idyllic village which, if she allowed us to, I am sure we should all dearly enjoy visiting. With that possible exception, I believe there is agreement that some form of deprivation exists.

Some noble Lords have laid greater stress on one aspect than on others. Some have been rather more optimistic; some have been rather less optimistic. I must confess that to my mind some have shown undue optimism; but even those who have been the most optimistic all agree that more must be done. We are happy to know how much is being done, how much thought is being given to this and what good results are being achieved. I hope that this debate will encourage those who are doing these things, will stimulate those who, perhaps, are not doing quite all they might be doing and will lead to still further research work of the kind which the noble Baroness mentioned is being carried out, and then action. My Lords, I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.